First let me say that the saying..."If you've met one person with Autism, you've met ONE person with Autism."...is so true. There are shared traits and symptoms, but it is a spectrum disorder. In other words, there's a large range of what Autism looks like. If you are concerned about a child, or even just curious, I encourage you to visit this site and take the quiz:
To give you an idea, Ellie scored 46, with a score over 34 being "Likely Autism".
I'm listing some of the things about Ellie that were/are signs of her Autism. Some were "quirks", some were more serious. Looking back the one thing I'd do differently is listen to my first instinct to seek outside help. It came after talking to a friend over a year before I finally made the call. Calling a counselor is NOT a sign of weakness, in fact I think it takes strength to seek help. A quick Google search of "Autism Therapists" in your area should turn up some leads of who to call. Even a good family counselor can help by giving you some leads. The first person we saw was a family counselor, who within 5 minutes knew we were dealing with sensory problems and possibly more. The one we currently see suspected within one session that Ellie had Asperger's. These people know what to look for, they are experts, most parents are not.
-Funny crawl as a baby.
-Didn't cross her midline. Now this one was tricky, I thought she did, even Parents as Teachers didn't catch it. However, when she was evaluated by an OT, someone trained to watch more carefully, we found out she wasn't. She had adapted her body to look like she was. She would turn so she never actually crossed her body's midline. She would twist her paper so she wouldn't cross the midline while she was writing.
-Clumsy, uncoordinated. Ellie hated stairs, and would often bump into things.
-Removes herself from social situations. When other children come over to play she enjoys them being around, but will remove herself from them quickly and go do something by herself.
-Avoids loud noises, covers her ears. Ellie hates music shows and school assemblies.
-Odd aversions to clothing and textures (sensory issues) starting as a toddler (age 2 1/2) Beyond the typical "I don't like socks" She couldn't tolerate underwear, socks, anything fitted, tags, or having her hair brushed.
-Lots of social problems with other children starting very young, age 1 1/2. Even with age she didn't improve much. She didn't play well with others. She overreacted to situations. She spent a lot of time in time outs at home, preschool, kindergarten, yet that didn't change her behavior. Something I think is key here: Children inherently want to please their parents. And they want to be happy. Yes they will challenge us, but they want to make us happy. If their behavior doesn't change with discipline, or if they seem unable to change their behavior even when they really want to, those are warning signs. I remember just being flabbergasted when Ellie was 3 and she wouldn't wear socks on a cold day to preschool. I thought she was just being extremely stubborn. She was supposed to be going on an outdoor field trip, one that she'd been looking forward to for awhile. I told her she couldn't go if she didn't wear socks, and she sobbed and sobbed but couldn't bear to put socks on. I didn't let her go, and family and friends praised my strength in "standing my ground", but now I realize she wasn't being stubborn at all. She was in agony. That same scene has played out many times since then. Even when she wants to be good, or go somewhere fun, she just can't comply for some reason.
-Meltdowns over chairs being too close to tables at home and restaurants.
-Comments from teachers like - "I've never had a child like her."
-Extreme interest in one or two subjects. For Ellie it's animals, especially cats.
-Extremely detailed. Has a memory of steel. Notices things no one else does.
-Monopolizes the conversation. Doesn't allow the normal give and take of a conversation, doesn't notice if the other person is bored or annoyed.
-No imaginary play. Really no actual "play". Ellie collects things like dolls, but doesn't play with them like Annie does. She dresses them in "season appropriate outfits", and lines them up on her shelves. She never liked dress-up or pretend play.
-Very practical. Reads only non-fiction books like informational books about animals. I read lots of fictional books to her, but as she grew older and made her own choices, she only chose non-fiction.
-Described by us and others as a "little adult". Relates better to adults or those much younger than herself, than she does with peers.
-Seems to need to control everything. This was one reason why people (including us at times) thought she was just very strong willed.
-Doesn't handle change well. Does much better on a schedule. New places, especially loud/busy places, often sent her into a meltdown.
-Lots of meltdowns. Not just at home, in fact more often in public places. When I think of all the places we dragged her, changes of schedule we threw at her, sensory overloading environments we put her in...mercy. Of course she was always screaming. She isn't wired to handle any of it.
Ok, so that's some of it. :) As I look back on this cumulative list I think, How could I have not seen it sooner? But I remember that I didn't look at it all together like I do now. And even if I had, I wouldn't have known what I was looking at. All I saw then was a very difficult, very troubled child. This is why we need awareness.
Please don't hesitate to share this, or ask me any questions you might have. I am by far not an expert, but I am happy to help anyone in any way I can. :-)