17 Real Moms Share Earliest Autism Signs
Compiled By LISA MORAN
Whether it's watching another kid chat up a storm, hearing from a preschool teacher with an eagle eye, or just gut maternal instinct, parents discover their child may be on the autism spectrum in so many different ways. Here, moms reveal the very earliest moments when they "knew."
Bradley, age 3
When I knew: "We realized at about 18 months that it had been several months since Bradley had said any new words or learned anything new. He had also started doing odd things like taking all my shoes out of the closet and grouping them by color and texture, and then lining them all up. He would also preferred to watch TV and play by himself rather than have anything to do with other kids his age. I had read a little about autistic children online and there were some signs and behaviors he just didn't fit into. He made eye contact and was a very affectionate boy. He loved hugs, kisses and tickles. But we still knew something was wrong. One day I was reading a magazine and came across an article about autistic children with a checklist. He fell into eight out of the 12 categories. We made an appointment to see the pediatrician the next day." -- Kelly, Bradley's mom, Texas
Recent victory: "Bradley loves music and numbers. He loves to sing, dance and count. Sing-along songs and dances and hand movements that go with them have been the most effective way to help him. He has said so many new words in the past few months -- it is amazing! He is a true joy and blessing to us. We know we have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but thanks to hard work of our therapists and the support system of other parents we have found with online communities like My Autism Team and Autism Speaks, we know we can handle it."
Connect with other moms of children with autism here.
Morgan, age 4
When I knew: "Morgan was an easy baby -- too easy! When she was four months old we were at a birthday party and she started laughing uncontrollably in the middle of the party. Everyone just stopped in their footsteps and looked at her and than started laughing. Greg and I looked at each other and said, 'That's not a normal laugh.' Our suspicions were correct: Morgan did not meet any of her developmental milestones and by ten months we insisted that her pediatrician write a prescription for a neurological evaluation. It was too early to be diagnosed, but we treated her as if she was autistic and Morgan was finally labeled at three years of age after two MRIs, two EEGs, three audiology evaluations and an assortment of other workups. She was very low-functioning and unable to communicate any wants or needs."-- Morgan's mom Laina, Florida
Recent victory: "Morgan is now four years old and has been working with a group of ABA therapists and an OT for the past year. These amazing woman have brought out some of Morgan's strengths such as putting together puzzles, learning colors, increasing eye contact, learning some sign language (more, eat, drink), following commands. She is now able to imitate some words (people, bubble, book, apple), and can sit at a table and participate in a two- to three-hour therapy sessions with short breaks. Morgan has also had some great success with potty training which is instrumental in autistic children. The progress that Morgan has made over this past year has given us hope that she will be able to functionally communicate with others and be independent with activities of daily living."
Rory, age 6
When I knew: "We started suspecting that Rory had autism around the time she turned two. Sometimes I thought she was deaf because she wouldn't respond to us at all. She would never look at the camera when we took pictures. The only way she would really interact with us was through physical play like bouncing or tickling or being tossed in the air. She played with toys, but not in the typical, imaginative way that her older sister did. We asked for an evaluation through out county's Infants and Toddlers program, and they confirmed our fears." -- Rory's mom Nora
Recent victory: "After a rough year of setbacks at school after several strep infections, Rory is blossoming this spring. Her language is expanding and she seems more engaged and aware of the world around her. Her language has grown beyond the words she needed to request things into longer sentences. She spontaneously says 'Bless You' when someone sneezes and apologizes on her own when she does something mischievous. I love hearing her say 'I sorry Mommy and Daddy.'"
Steele, age 6When I knew: "As a baby and into his toddler years, Steele didn't speak very much. He babbled, but it was impossible to understand him. My husband and I understood him better than most, but strangers couldn't understand him at all. He missed milestones, but our pediatrician told us he was just a late bloomer. At a glance, Steele looked like a normal 3-year-old. He was our first child, so we didn't realize how many verbal and social skills he was lacking. A friend of mine in the education field had met Steele many times and asked me if he had ever been tested for autism. As soon as she said it, I knew that's what it was. Something deep inside me knew it. I just had to hear it. We started all of the testing and got on the 3-month waiting list to see the pediatric neurologist." -- Cathy, Steele’s mom, Texas
Recent victory: "He enjoys reading, science, art classes, and sports and has formed friendships with many of his classmates. He loves going to movies, concerts, NASCAR races and even rides roller coasters. What a brave little guy!"
PHOTO COURTESY CATHY HALE
Nicolas, age 9When I knew: “I started wondering somewhere between 13 to 14 months. Nicolas wasn’t pointing or babbling like his twin sister. He preferred just a couple of toys, while she was interested in just about everything. Both babies had an occupational therapist and when I expressed my concerns, she said it was just too early to tell. I don’t remember the pediatrician being the slightest bit concerned.”
Recent victory: “From riding a two-wheeled bike to learning to tie his shoes to memorizing my cell number just from hearing me give it others umpteen times, he never ceases to amaze us! Just this school year, he was awarded ‘Most Determined,’ elected to serve on student council, and won the ‘First in Math’ trophy.” – Kristy, mom of Nicolas, California
PHOTO COURTESY KRISTY NARDINI
Mia, age 3When I knew: "I first started to wonder if Mia might have autism after she was already involved with early intervention for a speech and language delay. I started to notice she was not responding socially to us and she was making less eye contact. She was not pointing to objects for requests or to share what she was seeing. Because her older brother had autism, I knew these were signs. However, somehow the diagnosis was still shocking. Because it meant I now had two children with autism and it just seemed a bit surreal for quite a while after her diagnosis." -- Mia's Mom, Lisa
Recent victory: "Mia is now able to imitate many different actions, and when she was diagnosed she had almost no ability to imitate others. She has gained many new words this past year, and her receptive understanding is much better as well."
PHOTO COURTESY LISA CROGNALE
Sam, age 6When I knew: "I remember when Sam was a little older than two, I picked him up at preschool and the teacher was talking about Halloween and one kid said, "I'm going to be a penguin!" and I thought, "Wow, my kid doesn't even know what Halloween is, let alone wanting to be a penguin!" Later, I heard a mother of an autistic boy call Halloween "National Autism Recognition Day," because Halloween is all about parents dressing kids up in adorable outfits and expecting the kids to behave and participate -- and autistic kids tend to run around like crazy, all sugared up, not understanding what's going on. Another time we were at someone's third birthday party, and all of the kids were clapping and singing along and playing follow the leader and my son was flopping happily on a mat in the middle of the gym, far away from anybody else. I felt really self-conscious and exposed." – Erika, Sam’s mom, New York
Recent victory: "Sam has always loved letters. Recently, he’s begun to write stories, thanks to an amazing OT teacher who taught him how to write." Sam and Erika are also featured in the movie “Loving Lampposts, Living Autistic,” directed by Sam’s Dad.
PHOTO COURTESY ERIKA DREZNER
Stephen, age 10When I knew: “We always felt Stephen was different -- we noticed from an early age that he loved to watch the ceiling fans spin. He met most milestones on time, though his speech was not what my other three children had displayed. He had ear tubes inserted when he was two because he had had numerous dual ear infections. The doctors told us that within days of the surgery, he’d be talking like never before. It didn’t happen. We waited, and waited, and he still banged his head on the floor, lined up his toys, turned light switches on off, had to have everything in a certain order, and opened and closed doors. Finally, when he began to strip his clothes off in public, drop to the ground and hum, we realized it was time to do something.” -- Donna, Stephen’s mom, South Carolina
Recent victory: “He got straight As this semester in school and recently started playing soccer – and he’s good!”
PHOTO COURTESY BRYCE FAMILY
Max, age 5
When I knew: "At the age of 14 months, Max had yet to use words (not even "ma-ma" or "da-da") and he was not responding to his name or waving goodbye. At first we thought he may be deaf, but after having his hearing checked (it was perfect), we started on the road to getting a diagnosis. We finally got an official diagnosis at 32 months of age and Max started intensive behavior therapy that same month." -- Katrina, Max's mom
Recent victory: "Over the last few months, Max's expressive language has really taken off. He is up to seven-word sentences and is consistently making verbal requests like "I want cinnamon toast" or "I want to go outside." He has also taken a liking to playing two-person games and has mastered the art of teasing his younger sister. The victory I love best is his saying, "Hi, mommy!" unprompted. I've waited a long time to hear that."
Find more of Katrina's story at her blog, Fickle Feline.
Kyle, age 8
When I knew: "My mother was visiting from out of town. It had been months since she'd seen her grandchildren -- enough time that she noticed differences in Kyle, then 22 months old. She expressed concern that his speech had regressed, and more than ever, he preferred playing alone. I had wondered about this too, so when she mentioned autism, I immediately began searching for information online. When I read through a checklist of warning signs on the Easter Seals' web site, he hit every single one. Within days, we were at the pediatrician's office. The doctor doubted Kyle had autism, but we asked to be referred to a specialist. Even after a team at the local children's hospital ruled out autism, we sought another opinion. Eventually Kyle was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a form of autism." -- Kyle's mom Stephanie
Recent victory: Kyle is now 8 and is finishing up second grade and he just bridged over last week to a Bear Scout in Cub Scouts. He's very proud of becoming a Bear and has been telling everyone he can about it. He has a best friend and now has a "girlfriend" too. Kyle is really starting to engage more in back and forth conversations with familiar people and genuinely take an interest in how other people are doing. This is such a huge step and has been so exciting to see!"
Jude, age 9
When I knew: "Jude was diagnosed with autism at the age of one. He did not develop any verbal skills as a small child and is still completely nonverbal to date. He receives occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and ABA therapy both in school and in a private setting. He is a very happy and affectionate child......hugs and kisses are the rule and not the exception. We are most proud of Jude's many accomplishments that he has made due to early intervention with intensive therapies. Jude loves music, books, and movies. He also adores his older sister, Sophia. " -- Jude's mom Jill, Missouri
Recent victory: "Within the last year, Jude has started using an iPad to assist with communication and his IEP goals. Jude loves playing educational games on his iPad which reinforce what he is learning in ABA and his other therapies. The iPad has proved to be a welcome deviation from his 'standard' therapy routines."
Jack, age 5When I knew: “It wasn't my husband or me who first suspected something wasn't quite right without our 18 month old son. It was the infant/toddler coordinator at our son's preschool. While we thought his obsession with doors was interesting (‘Oh look! He may grow up to be an engineer!’), she thought it was out of the ordinary and urged us to get it checked out. At worst, we thought an OCD diagnosis would come back. We were absolutely shocked with he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS on the Autism Spectrum. Jack is generally a loving little boy who laughs and loves to cuddle.” – Chris, Jack’s mom, Ohio
Recent victory: “We raised $1200 for “Team Jack” at the Autism Speaks walk!”
PHOTO COURTESY CHRIS ZIMMER
Ryan, age 4
When I knew: "I first knew that my son, Ryan, had autism when he stopped speaking. At two years old, I never heard my son call me 'Mom' or say 'Dad' to his father. It was also apparent to me when all of the people I knew with kids at the same age would brag about their milestones, yet my son hadn't met any. He found interest in the wheels on his cars, but didn't roll the car on the floor. I knew when he lined his Legos on the windowsill instead of building little structures and when people would ask 'he didn't start walking yet?' or 'he hasn't called you Mom yet?' They noticed differences in the way that our kids played and so did I. This made me want to isolate my child from peers his age so that I could protect him from the judgement of other parents about how different my child is." -- Ryan's mom Robin, Maryland
Recent victory: "At four years old, Ryan is such a champion. He started ABA when he was two after six months of evaluation. At three, he transitions to ECI and things have really come a long way. Not only do I get to hear the most beautiful word, "Mom" every day, but he is capable of expressing his needs to me in various ways. He can usually tell me directly what he wants to express, but in times where that's difficult, he can gesture his stories. It's amazing to see how much this little boy has come, from having no form of communication with me to being what he is. I am so proud of this child and grateful for all of the support we've had along the way. Ryan has several friends in his daycare, they love doing puzzles together... which is undoubtedly one of his biggest strengths, and he's even joined a t-ball league. T-ball can be a challenge, but we look at this as just one more mountain we are going to help him move."
Nico, 5, and Cali, 4When I knew: “At about 8 months old, Nico began to ball his fist and repeatedly punch himself in the head. At his 12-month checkup, I had concerns that he was barely crawling. At 15 months, I was walking through a parking lot and a woman stopped me to say how cute it was that Nico was flapping his arms like a bird. I felt a pit in my stomach because I knew it wasn't right. At this point, he started banging his head, not speaking, he did not want to be touched, and he would line things up -- all of the classic autistic behaviors. I was referred to Early Intervention for an evaluation and he was then diagnosed by a pediatric neurologist. At 14 months, Cali did not want to be touched, had little to no eye contact, would not respond to her name and had very bad tantrums. She had a speech and fine motor delays as well. Cali was initially diagnosed PDD-NOS but recently had her diagnosis removed. If I had not experienced the signs with Nico, I may not have noticed Cali until much later. -- Cyndi Rossi, Nico and Cali’s mom, New Jersey
Recent victory: “Nico has graduated to a part-time integrated class and there is discussion of mainstreaming him in school next year. He is a loving, affectionate and sweet boy and I am so proud of him.”
PHOTO COURTESY CYNDI HOLLIDAY
Jacob, age 10When I knew: “We knew that something wasn’t quite right when Jacob was about 2.5 years old. He had very little speech and had reached all of his major milestones late. His favorite way to play was to line cars up in rows for hours on end. He used to flap his arms when he was excited too, which at the time we thought was just a cute way he reacted to things. We decided to have him evaluated for his speech issues around the age of 3 and it was brought to our attention that there could be more going on than just a speech delay. Looking back now it is quite obvious that he was on the spectrum all along but it took numerous trips to several specialists before we knew for sure.” – Kristy, Jacob’s mom, Idaho
Recent victory: “I was once told that Jacob would likely be non-verbal his entire life. Not only does Jacob have a typical vocabulary for a child his age but he’s also quite chatty!”
PHOTO COURTESY KRISTY PAYNE
Dean, age 7When I knew: “At about two, I started seeing a few things that didn't seem "right" like his speech was not progressing. Yes, he could say words, but he never could string them together into simple sentences. For a year, I was totally confused about my concerns. Yet everyone, the doctor, my mom, my husband convinced me that it was just my imagination or the fact that I was a "first-time" mom. One day, I was standing in line getting bagels with my son and I heard another child tell his dad in full sentences what he wanted. When I asked the father how old his son was, he said 2 ½ -- the same age as my son that was still stuck on "car" and "tree." He was officially diagnosed at age three.” – Filomena, Dean’s mom
Recent victory: “He has made remarkable progress in every aspect including speech and socialization.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF FILOMENA LAFORGIA
Leo, age 10
When I knew: “I started worrying about autism when Leo was almost one year old. He was not responding to social and verbal cues like his big sister did just 21 months earlier, and he had a funky lopsided crawl. But Leo has always been an intensely affectionate mama's boy, and since at the time most people still clung to "emotionless robots" stereotypes about people with autism, I was told that Leo couldn't possibly have autism by almost every person I confessed my fears to. When Leo was 18 months old, we vacationed with a family friend who is a pediatrician. He spent our vacation quietly evaluating Leo so as not to alarm us and on our final day together, he gave us the low down -- he said Leo was showing delays in communication and social skills, and we needed to have him evaluated.” – Shannon, Leo’s mom, California
Recent victory: “Leo recently made huge strides in his independent learning and entertainment -- thanks to an iPad we won with a $5 school raffle ticket.”
PHOTO COURTESY SHANNON ROSA
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