FAQ: Pre-Diagnosis 

So you think your little one might have autism but you don’t know what to do.

First, relax. Autism has come a long way and despite what you may have heard (like this awful video with a parent talking about wanting to murder her autistic child), the diagnosis means your child is different but little else. You will hear the following a million times over the next year: if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism. But it is somewhat true. Autism presents in such a wide variety of ways that it’s impossible to generalize. 

Before we get into the questions, I recommend all parents confronting an autism diagnosis check out the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag on Twitter. Hear from autistic people and recognize they’re just like neurotypical people, except in nearly all cases, better. 

Q: How can I get my child an autism evaluation?

A: Speak to your pediatrician about your concerns first. If your pediatrician seems to be downplaying your concerns, get a new pediatrician. Seriously. Having a child with autism means you need to have a pediatrician who is a partner, not someone who ignores your concerns. Second, look up your local regional center and ask about an evaluation. If they can’t point you in the right direction, try calling your local children’s hospital. Do not give up. The sooner you know your child has autism, the better.

Q: My pediatrician recommended an autism evaluation for my child. He’s only 18 months. It’s too early, right?

A: Nope. Your pediatrician saw something she thought could mean your child is on the spectrum and you should take that seriously. Eighteen months is on the early side but not too early.

Q: My child has met every milestone, so she definitely couldn’t have autism, right?

A: That depends on two things, how old your child is and why exactly you feel it necessary to ask such a question. If your child has met all of her milestones at age 6 months, that doesn’t mean much. And if you happen to end up checking out this website at 4 a.m. even though your child has met all her milestones, that probably means something.

There are a lot of misconceptions about autism. The diagnostic criteria looks for what the DSM calls “deficits” (right from the start, they tell you there is something wrong, but they are differences, and that’s truly it) in three areas: social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. But not all kids are clear cut cases and plenty of people are never diagnosed but may meet the criteria. Suffice to say, you don’t need to get a PhD in autism before you get an evaluation, but a quick Google search can clue you in to basic symptoms that may give you a better understanding of autism.

Q: Does this mean my child won’t be able to live on his own when he is older?

A: Plenty of autistic people live on their own and plenty can’t. But it is not something you can necessarily determine when the child is very young. Your goal is to have your child live the fullest life possible. 

Q: Does this mean I’m autistic too?

A: No. You could have autistic traits or you could be autistic yourself, but it only matters insofar as it impacts your life. 

Q: Was this caused when I vaccinated my daughter for measles?

A: No.

Q: Can autism be cured?

A: No, but it shouldn’t be viewed as a sickness to be cured in the first place. 

Q: How did Jenny McCarthy sell all these books about her cockamamie program to cure autism?

A: Who knows. But they are enormously destructive to autistic children.

What did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

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