Saturday, February 18, 2012

Is It Autism? Or Is He Just Shy?

Dear Tazi:

I am really ready to lose it on my daughter and son-in-law! They have been married for seven years, and had their first child after three years of trying - so you can imagine how hypersensitive they are about anything and everything that relates to the child. If "Jack" so much as sneezes they are on the phone with the pediatrician, demanding a full check-up and possibly a trip to the allergist, just to be certain and rule out any underlying issues.

Ever since he was born, Jack has been the center of "Shirley" and "Earl's" universe, to the exclusion of anyone else. This past Fall actually had the nerve to ask my wife and me to reschedule our other grandchild's birthday party because the timing interfered with Jack's new nap schedule. I could see how this might be a reasonable request if Jack were still a newborn, but he is almost three years old! Can you see the picture I am trying to draw for you? It is very important, because here is the issue I am having: I think Jack might be autistic, but his parents are turning a blind eye to the problem.

Jack does not speak to anyone, although his parents say he speaks "when no one else is around". He does not make eye contact with people, and appears very uncomfortable around people in general. He does not like to be hugged or touched in any way, and is particularly sensitive to loud or unexpected noise. Shirley and Earl insist that this is all perfectly normal, and that Jack is just really shy. When I suggested they speak to his pediatrician about getting Jack screened for autism - they get him screened for everything else - they reacted with such offense you would think I suggested that they castrate the child! Shirley even went so far to say I was accusing their "baby" of being "less than perfect" simply because he "prefers the company of his Mommy and Daddy" over me.

Tazi, I am a Neurodevelopment Research Scientist. I have a PhD in my field, and conduct research that deals with autism spectrum disorders. In short, I recognize the signs of autism in children, and know that early-intervention is the best way to help a child overcome any difficulties that may limit him/her later in life. I do not want to see my grandson live a life where he is trapped inside his own mind; but I have tried everything that I can think of - short of kidnapping the kid - to get his parents to have him screened and treated. Do you think I should try calling Child Protective Services?

Dr. Grandpa

Dear Dr. Grandpa:

I am so happy to know that your grandson has someone like you looking out for him! The symptoms you describe do reflect those of autism, and Jack would be well served to be screened and entered into an early-intervention program, if it is shown to be necessary. The fact that his parents consider autistic children to be "less than perfect" shows a very ignorant attitude. Some of the most brilliant minds the world has ever seen - from Mozart to Albert Einstein - are though to have been autistic. Both your daughter and son-in-law need to be educated on this issue. The fact that they call the doctor about every little thing - but ignore the big things - tells me that they are overcompensating for something; and that something could be the fact that Jack is indeed autistic.

Calling Child Protective Services sounds pretty extreme. Is there anyone else (besides you) who can advocate for Jack? Could you write to the child's pediatrician and ask that he evaluate the child the next time Jack is in for what sounds like one of his many visits? Is Jack a member of a play-group or day-care, with trained professionals on staff? All of these people could be potential advocates on Jack's behalf, to pressure his parents into opening their eyes and getting their son the assistance he needs.

If all else fails, and you simply have nowhere else to turn, then I would agree that Child Protective Services must be called for the good of the child - but this call should be an absolute last resort. Keep in mind that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.


Today's column is dedicated to M.T.B., a kind and brilliant young man; and one of the world's next great genius'! --TK

Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

1 comment:

  1. The signs are indeed there. Having a screening done will not hurt. If there is no problem detected, then the issue can be laid to rest. However, the more time that goes by, the more damage is being done. There are many therapies and interventions that can be used to help the child...autistic or shy. The fact that the parents are overly senstitive may cost the child valuable time. Calling Child Protective Services may not produce the results intended.