Why I Won’t Take My Introverted Son To Be Evaluated For Autism

AutismMy son started pre-K this month in NYC and his teachers aren’t pulling any punches.  Starting from orientation night, they prepped us to hone our kids’ interview skills and showed us the ten page assessment they would be giving them in the next two weeks.  Most of the parents around me grumbled when they saw the math and reading sheets, but I was too busy swallowing the vomit in my mouth from the words “interview skills” in the same sentence as four year olds. Especially for my son.

When I sat down for the evaluation results with his teacher I thought I knew what to expect.  He’s socially awkward, emotionally regressive, but exceptionally bright.  What I didn’t expect was the subtle suggestion that he might be “on the spectrum.”

I admit for the first time I gave pause, considering that my son displays a laundry list of of behaviors that are considered symptoms of autism:

Doesn’t look when you call their name, even if they seem to hear other sounds
Doesn’t look you in the eye much or at all (at school)
Doesn’t notice when you enter or leave a room
Seems to be in their own world

Can’t do simple things you ask them to do
Has a lot of tantrums
Prefers to play alone (at school)

But my gut immediately told me it wasn’t true.  And today, an excerpt from the book ”Back to Normal: Why Ordinary Childhood Behavior Is Mistaken for ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and Autism Spectrum Disorder” gives me a new rationale.  He’s just a strong-willed, intellectual, introverted, hyper left-brain child.

In its milder form, especially among preschool- and kindergarten-age boys, it is tough to distinguish between early signs of autism spectrum disorder and indications that we have on our hands a young boy who is a budding intellectual, is more interested in studying objects than hanging out with friends, overvalues logic, is socially awkward unless interacting with others who share identical interests or is in a leadership role, learns best when obsessed with a topic, and is overly businesslike and serious in how he socializes.

The school environment only makes it far worse for my son.  When he’s anxious he reverts to “baby talk” (if he speaks at all), he refuses to look his teachers in the eye, and he won’t engage with unfamiliar peers.  He also does math at a first grade level, can read entire childrens’ books and identify words from a grade six vocabulary book.  Don’t even get me started on how picky he is as an eater.  All of this paints a picture — understandably — for his teachers to ask if he’s ever seen a professional.

But the child I know at home talks up a storm, engages with his younger sister constantly and yanks my head (usually up from my computer) right to his face to look me in the eye and tells me he loves me on a daily basis. To consider him autistic would not only minimize his natural temperament and strengths, but the diagnosis and treatment that benefit spectrum children.

(photo: jenvaughnart)

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  • Jessica

    I get where you’re coming from. My question is why not be absolutely sure about something that could really impact his life? I wonder if you’re more concerned about the stigma of a diagnosis, and that’s why you won’t go to a professional to rule it out or in.

    • chickadee

      Everything I’ve ever read about autism says that the earlier it is diagnosed, the better chance the child has socially and academically. I agree that getting him screened is a good idea, if only to make sure he isn’t on the spectrum. And, rightly or wrongly, she may have some real trouble with her son’s teacher if she refuses to take her advice….

    • Carinn Jade

      To clarify she only said she was concerned about some of his behaviors but did not say she thought he need to be evaluated. The struggle around taking him to a medical professional was my internal dialogue after someone else showed some concern. However the timing of the concern bugs me. I know teachers care about their ex-missions profiles, but if he can’t interview for kindergarten I don’t care. We will figure something else out.

    • chickadee

      Whoops! — my mistake. I do wonder if it’s some backside-covering going on with her on behalf of the school’s reputation. Getting their students into good private schools and what have you.

      I have to say, I don’t envy you that process. “Interview” and “kindergarten” are two words that don’t go together well at all….

    • Carinn Jade

      That’s exactly how I feel! And how about this — let’s give him more than two weeks to transition. If she’s still concerned in November or December, I will listen. But if all she’s thinking about is preparing him for interviews, screw it. That’s just stupid.

    • Simone

      Yeah – give this lad a few weeks to settle in, will you, woman??? (the teacher, not you :)) I suspect other motives here than the wellbeing and development of your son.

      Kindergarteners and interview skills. F**k me, that is a whole new level of American crazy. If you put those two ideas together in Australia, people would move away from you on the bench.

    • Jessie

      I have a strong suspicion that if you presented most ANY part of the cockamamie B.S that is now considered “good parenting and childhood development” by American standards to ANYONE outside of the country, they would edge away from you and wonder what kind of crazy juice America is collectively drinking, lol!

    • ElleJai

      Personally if they suggested this kinder interview thing for my child, I’d hit them with my thong (for the non-Aussies playing, that would be a flip-flop), in the face, then leave the bench.

    • Christine

      I am going through the same stuff! my son is four and was used to daycare so we decided to try kindergarten (he won’t be five until dec). He was delayed in crawling and walking. speech was fine some minor th and l issues now. I simply asked the teacher if he was doing okay naturally he’s my first and I was axious. She asked me if I was familiar with the spectrum and aspergers. He makea noises when he’s nervous and often repeats dialogue from his latest fav show or movie. I am concerned but other than that and temper tantrums I am not concerned. personally if my kid prefers not to follow his peers and live out the social drama thay is so encouraged that is fine by me. Is he kind? yes. Is he learning? yes. Does he fit in a box of normal? no. So what? so what? Honestly with funding and paycheque negotiations it doesn’t surprise me we want to categorize everyone! If by 6 he’s not ready to be in a classroom yes we will try plan B. But lets not jump on this overdiagnosing of children.

    • MamaLlama

      As an SLP and a mother, I understand waiting until Nov/Dec to allow your son to be engrossed in a language-rich (social communication especially) environment with his peers before talking with your MD or other professionals. I had to post to just clarify that most professionals do not want to label children, but they do want to use their professional judgment and clinical skills to help you. Especially, sometimes as parents (myself included), we might not see or know something a professional might be able to identify through screening, parent interviews, and observation. Some examples include the OT seeing gross and fine motor delays and/or sensory issues; tantrums can sometimes be helped with sensory input that a child is not getting on their own. PT, OT, ST and the school psychologist could help the teacher with strategies to enhance your child’s learning experience, not to push him into a corner. Sorry-this was kind of an overview of some of the other commenters is definitely not an attack! Good luck!

    • Angela

      I’ve been through this with my own son and found that this both is and isn’t true. If a child has speech or motor delays or has behavioral red flags then early intervention is key. If the concern is more mild social/emotional delays then screening won’t make much difference. At this age the brain is still developing and it’s fairly common for children to develop more quickly in some areas while lagging in others. So unless it is classic autism most professional will avoid either diagnosing or ruling out anything at this age. Basically I was told to wait it out and see whether or not the gaps close or widen in the upcoming years.

      Instead my professional advice was to simply implement good parenting, provide plenty of opportunity for socialization and do activities that would help foster emotional development. If he does have autism it will help, and if not it will still help. This was the resource my psychologist recommended for ideas on how to foster emotional IQ which is great advice for any parent.


    • Jessica

      This is such a delicate situation, and I speak from experience. I have 2 boys on the spectrum, and everyone around me kept reassuring me that nothing was wrong, boys develop slower than girls, he’s too affectionate to be autistic, etc…and I hate to sound sanctimommy about this, but if I hadn’t gone to get them tested, I fear what could have been. I urge you to just err on the side of caution. The way they test your child is very comprehensive, they make you take several in-depth questionaires with hundreds of questions. The observe your child for at least 2 hours. It can’t hurt to take him. Like Angela said, if he has autism, it will help, if he doesn’t, it will still help. And this is not something you want to regret later. Early intervention is why my children finally spoke their first words after age 3, and they never shut up now. It is because of all the speech and occupational therapy and social skills that they are in a general ed curriculum special day class. (They are learning and keeping up with everything typical kids of their grade are learning, just in a smaller setting). Your child sounds very bright, and I just wish you luck in whatever you decide to do.

    • Angela

      Actually when I mentioned it would help either way I was talking about the general parenting advice- giving your kids ample socialization opportunities and fostering emotional development. If I had it to do again I would not have my son evaluated. In your situation where there are speech delays then early intervention is invaluable (same goes for motor or cognitive delays or severe behavioral issues). However, for kids like my son who have no delays other than a slight social/emotional lag and a few quirky behaviors it’s essentially useless. It’s also very expensive since the school district will only cover screening for speech, cognitive, or motor delays. Moreover I found that once people start tossing around labels and possible diagnoses it changed the way I view my son (despite fighting really hard not to let it).

      I think the difference is that your instincts were telling you something wasn’t right when other people were assuring you everything was fine. In my case it was the other way around. If her instincts are telling her to wait and see I’d advise her to stick with that.

    • Simone

      It’s worth remembering that autism doesn’t really exist a priori, it’s a construction that we use to describe a set of characteristics and ‘finding’ it depends on the subjective experiences of an individual. It’s not like brain cancer – you can see that, it has a biological etiology, it’s an actual thing. Autism is not the same, and for kids who are ‘maybe on the spectrum, maybe just a bit different’, a lot of psychological and medical intervention can be damaging (in my opinion).

      I also fully understand and respect those parents who have found that accepting this label on behalf of their children has resulted in significant advantages for their child and their family – that’s a real result which certainly happens many times. At other times, I feel that attaching labels of psychological disorder is just unhelpful and homogenises people without being of any real benefit.

    • Blueathena623

      Really not sure why this was down voted.

    • chickadee

      It wasn’t supposed to be! My cursor slipped.

    • Chrissy

      Part of the problem is that Autism is the buzz word right now. Children are being diagnosed with it more often. I don’t know if that’s because people understand it better or if it’s because everyone expects it. It’s happened with a string of disorders. Something becomes “popular” and professionals get certified in it and spend a lot of time studying it then they see it everywhere.

      Also, it’s worth considering that once a child (or an adult) gets a diagnosis, they are treated a certain way. More often than not, especially in schools, children are seen as a diagnosis and how to deal with the diagnosis. They’re no longer a child. They’re a set of criteria that needs to be dealt with a certain way. Introversion can often be mistaken for autism in the same way that extroversion can be mistaken for ADHD. There are perks and negatives to seeing a professional for a diagnosis.

  • Diana

    He sounds like my brother. Who was an old professor type even as a small child. He’s not autistic btw. Just highly intellectual and kinds grumpy.

  • DeanaCal

    I am confused about why you have to hone the interview skills of a preschooler. Are they trying to get a better job then the other preschoolers?

    • CMJ

      I think it’s for kindergarden admissions. Insanity.

    • Cee

      Ugh! I hate these school wars. I had seen them here in California at the high school level, but to know that it is happening so young is quite frustrating. It shouldn’t have to happen…

    • Wendy

      Yes….you want them to get the good job, like line leader. Not the crap like milk-wiper-upper after snack. It’s all very important and weighty in preschool :)

  • Emil

    Please tell me what school this is so I know to avoid it. Seriously, this is ridiculous for so many reasons.

  • bl

    This is so complicated. Save one or two differences, he sounds like me. Evaluations weren’t as stringent when I was in school, but I inadvertently got one. To limit the class sizes, they decided to move the “must be 5 years old by” date up a couple weeks, which bumped me out of kindergarten for a year. My mom took me into petition it because I was so advanced and they said “Yeah, academically, she’s beyond kindergarten, but emotionally, she’s not ready for school. We’ll take her, but we’d recommend waiting.” No one suggested a diagnosis (as far as I know), but it wasn’t popular at the time.

    Full disclosure, as an adult, I got diagnosed with ADD-inattentive type and started meds. Do I have ADD or do I just get so overwhelmed by stimuli and stress that I can’t focus? Don’t know. Don’t care. The meds changed my life.

    I don’t say this to encourage you to medicate your child. Far from it. I just mean that whether or not I have it, I need something to help me meet the world halfway. It doesn’t bend around my oddities, and I’m not able to bend around it on my own either. In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter if he’s autistic, ADD, anxious, shy, or none of the above. You both just need to figure out how that translates into coping skills to either change behaviors or accept and embrace the ones that might make him a little bit different.

    • Simone

      Your last paragraph is the most sensible approach there could be to psychological wellness.

  • Shikki

    My son is introverted like I am but when he recently became obsessed with folded pieces of paper I had a full developmental evaluation done on him. Thankfully everything was fine (for now) but I never want to be so married to the introvert label that I miss the opportunity for early intervention. I am sure the teacher has seen other introverted children so I wouldn’t dismiss her suggestion if your child’s behavior has caught her attention. Best case scenario he’s fine, worse case scenario you can start to connect him with additional, targeted resources for him to be successful.

  • Greengirl83

    There is no harm in having him evaluated. I’ve worked with children with autism for 5 years and they are all unique and different. The reasons you give for being sure that he doesn’t have autism are not solid proof. Ultimately it is your choice, but don’t refuse to have him evaluated out of fear. If he is typical, then great! You’ll have the proof to back you up if another teacher questions you. If he is diagnosed, then he is still smart and wonderful.

  • Kaylasmom

    It might be possible that he has Asperger’s syndrome, which is usually mild and associated with high levels of intelligence and difficulties in social contexts. I know you may not want him to get tested, but you will receive amazing amounts of information about his strengths and challenges. His teachers will be able to better help him in the classroom and you will also learn information about how to help him too. The testing process can also be a “ruling out” process as well. He may qualify for some wonderful services and therapies that will help him and take some of the pressure off of you to take care of everything yourself. I know all of these things because I am a special ed. Teacher in CA. Best wishes on your journey.

  • CW

    After my youngest daughter was diagnosed with “classic” autism, I had my son evaluated for possible Asperger’s or PDD. He had been a late talker and is a bit of a “little professor” type. I started noticing that he was piggybacking on his social butterfly older sister in his interactions with other kids. Our family’s pediatric neurologist felt strongly that he was not on the spectrum but rather has ADHD + anxiety + giftedness. Right now we’re not treating the ADHD or anxiety with pharmaceuticals but if he starts showing major impairment we would consider medicating.

  • J

    You’re describing the personalities of 2/3 of my husband and my colleagues. We’re both PhD academics. I’m sure he’s just fine. My colleague had them question her son too. He’s now thriving in the gifted program and definitely not autistic but still has the same personality. I imagine he’ll end up with a PhD some day.

  • NicknamesAreDull

    If he gets evaluated and it turns out he has Autism- he is still the boy he was the day before the evaluation. He’ll get therapy to help him. If he is evaluated and doesn’t have Autism, then you know, you’ll have proof you looked into it.

  • Simone

    I do think we’re running the risk of pathologising normal human behaviour, especially in kids. Do we really need all kids to be kinda the same, or couldn’t it just be okay for some kids to be a bit different? The schooling system needs kids to be all largely identical so they can all be processed in the same way, but we’re not cans of peas – we’re all totally different. If you think your son would benefit from some kind of assessment or intevention, then I’m sure that’s what you’ll organise for him. If it would just be an unnecessary stress, a financial burden, and kinda squash the unique bits that make him who he is without substantially making life easier for him, then skip it.

  • LilStinker

    Schools tend to demonize introverts, through both their culture and their structure. It was true when I was an introverted kid, and it’s true now, though now “the spectrum” gets invoked. Perhaps the so-called spectral behaviors are stress responses to a situation that demands he constantly do things that are easy for extroverts and hard for introverts. Could well explain the quietness at school/talkativeness at home.

  • CrazyLogic

    As someone with autism who wasn’t diagnosed until after high school…get him tested. Double check, make sure. Even mild autism causes difficulties and hardships in things that neurotypical people find easy.

    Not to mention people were flipping patronizing to me until I had that bit of paper. I almost failed the third grade because I had one teacher that wanted the perfect class and refused to work with kids who didn’t have a formal diagnosis or IEP because without that I was just a “behavioral problem”

    It’s not the end of the world to be autistic. I pushed through without a diagnosis for most of my life. But it makes things a lot easier and if feels better thinking “I’m autistic” than thinking “I’m just a freak”.

    I’ll admit, I don’t know your son. You could be perfectly right and he could just have a hard time adjusting to school. But when it comes to learning disabilities, it’s better safe than sorry if you ask me. If he has it, you’ll be able to help him as soon as possible. If he’s neurotypical, than you can pat yourself on the back and know that he was read incorrectly.

  • blh

    I completely agree with you. I was very shy at school and completely different at home. The teacher tried to say I am ADD but really I just plain didn’t like school and wouldn’t pau attention and do the work. It was my personality, not a disorder.

  • Emmali Lucia

    I’d like to have a story time about why I don’t like how schools are now diagnosing children with mental problems:

    When I was about 7 or 8 I was in girlscouts. I was a hyper child who couldn’t sit still and was extremely extroverted. The scout leader did not like me, she did not like me one bit and told my mother that I had ADHD, she knew, of course, because she was a mother. I don’t think she even took a psychology course in college. She just “Knew.” Because the one hour every other week meant that she knew me.

    Anyways, this girl got in a fist fight with me because I had a walking stick, this girl did not get into any trouble, but I got kicked out of my girl scout troop. The scout leader told my mother that I had ADHD (Again) and that she would refuse to let me back into the troop and blacklist me until I was medicated for my “Disorder.”

    So I was not put on medication, but when I was about 15 my psychiatrist (Who knew of this story and knew of my failing grades) was like “Well maybe you DO have ADD.” So he gave me concerta (Which is a slow-release form of adderall, if adderall is cocaine then concerta is fucking meth.) I was so strung out that that was the only time I seriously tried to commit suicide. I survived (Obviously), and we later found out that it was Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’m convinced that if my psych had never heard the girl scouts story I would have been diagnosed years before and maybe would have done okay in high school.

    Welp, I just wrote a novel.

    • Simone

      Yeah, see, this is the danger of layman diagnosis, of stigmatisation and of preconception in psychology. Some labels in life are incredibly ‘sticky’ and ‘mental health problem’ is possibly the stickiest of all. Once someone says you have something, all behaviours are viewed through the filtering lens of that label and because mental wellness or difference is often intangible, the label wins out over anything else.

      Psychologists are guessing. Different psychs make different guesses. Most of the drugs used in treating psychological ‘illnesses’ have not gone through a clinical evaluation and no, I’m not making that up.

      While it’s necessary, important and wonderful that those with serious mental health problems who seek help are often given the help that they need, there is also a lot of overdiagnosis, misdiagnosis, and unnecessary medicating going on and it’s all a bit dangerous.

    • Angela

      Wow, can I just say how underwhelmed I am with a psychiatrist who would treat you based on a scout leader’s opinion from several years ago rather then his own observations and screenings? I hope you’re in a better place now.

    • Emmali Lucia

      Well the thing is the psychiatrist only really sees you for a half hour once a month… So he takes notes based on the stories of my behaviour. Sometimes psychiatrists are wrong.

    • AP

      I can do you one better re: bad psychiatrists. I ended my schooling in an affluent district where parents used to buy diagnoses. Extra time on the SATs- we can buy that. Kid prefers to socialize instead of study- we can drug that out of them.

      It’s fairly easy to find unscrupulous professionals if you have a little money.

    • jessica

      SAME. I can’t believe that I’ve actually “met” someone who has been through the same thing I went through. I was put on all different kinds of meds- Adderall, Ritalin, DEXEDRINE (wtf?), Stratera (spelling?), and finally Concerta. I kept telling everyone I just didn’t feel good on any of these medications. My psychiatrist listened to what I was saying but then just kept adding more meds to deal with my various side effects. Finally in college I found a doctor who took me off all of the meds and that man changed my whole life. Glad to hear you eventually found the right doctor who correctly diagnosed you and was actually able to provide the help you really needed instead of pushing you closer to the edge.

    • Emmali Lucia

      I’ve had the same doctor through the whole time. He mainly put me on concerta because of my failing grades and the fact that a lot of generalized anxiety disorder symptoms are similar to ADD/ADHD (Difficulty concentrating or your mind “going blank,” Trembling, feeling twitchy or being easily startled, and Restlessness and feeling keyed up or on edge, now imagine how those symptoms looked while jacked up on Concerta) When I told him that it was royally fucking me he didn’t make me stay on it. Then again I’m pretty good about doing what I think is right and admitting when I’m wrong.

    • jessica

      Well in that case I misread and I apologize for mischaracterizing your psychiatrist! Good to hear that he took your concerns seriously and you do well at advocating for yourself. I think mine may have had difficulty taking my complaints seriously due to the fact that I was 12-16 at the time and maybe not the best at explaining how I was feeling aside from saying “I just don’t feel well”.

    • Chrissy

      That is REALLY bad psychology and I’m so sorry that psychiatrist did that. It’s sad but that DOES happen. They should have been WAY MORE comprehensive in testing.

    • Maddi Holmes

      I have GAD! I also express symptoms of ADHD however my psychiatrist said that they often overlap and for that reason when people display symptoms of both she chooses not to medicate, rather come up with management strategies. I’m sorry you went through all of that, GAD is already kinda shit, I can’t imagine having to deal with that stress on top of it. I’ve never been medicated for anxiety, and I don’t plan on it as long as I can handle it :)

  • Simone

    Depending on where you put the goalposts, we are ALL on the autism spectrum. Let’s not forget that the posts are set by fallible people who make a lot of money from how many balls are kicked between them, remember that the posts are moved regularly depending on a whole range of pressures including political and financial ones, and think critically like this Carinn has about how many goals get kicked.

  • Kelly

    I’ve yet to see a kid whose mom or school was looking for an autism diagnosis not get one. Follow your gut & heart.

  • Chrissy

    Part of the problem is that Autism is the buzz word right now. Children are being diagnosed with it more often. I don’t know if that’s because people understand it better or if it’s because everyone expects it. It’s happened with a string of disorders. Something becomes “popular” and professionals get certified in it and spend a lot of time studying it then they see it everywhere. Then you have teachers who have NO RIGHT to be armchair psychologists, who are getting training in aspects of certain disorders – especially Autism-spectrum right now – so they start seeing it everywhere. I’ve personally seen pre-K staff start diagnosing students IN THE MIDDLE OF A TRAINING even DIRECTLY AFTER the trainer said that this is to help them understand the children they may be working with NOT teaching them actual diagnostic criteria.

    Also, it’s worth considering that once a child (or an adult) gets a diagnosis, they are treated a certain way. More often than not, especially in schools, children are seen as a diagnosis and how to deal with the diagnosis. They’re no longer a child. They’re a set of criteria that needs to be dealt with a certain way. Introversion can often be mistaken for autism in the same way that extroversion can be mistaken for ADHD. There are perks and negatives to seeing a professional for a diagnosis. It’s always good to err on the side of caution, but I’d also think at least a 2nd opinion after the first should also be considered, regardless of the outcome of the first.

  • Maddi Holmes

    I’d like to give you a bit of personal experience of mine. I have generalised anxiety disorder, dyscalculia (like dyslexia for numbers), and I also express symptoms of ADHD. However my parents never had me tested for these things, so I never knew and I was never taught with my differences in mind. At the age of 17 I’m coming up to my final exams and I finally came to believe something might be wrong, I get straight As but I test poorly in maths and chemistry. Things just weren’t adding up (ha pun), so I visited my GP who suggested I saw a psychiatrist. After 12 years of schooling I finally found out I have certain learning disorders that had I been aware of much younger, I would have been able to learn in a way that worked for me. I cannot begin to explain to you how stressful it has been trying to get special considerations on my final exams with mere months left before I have to take them, I can’t begin to explain how depressing and upsetting it is to know you’re a bright and intelligent person, but for some unexplained reason you’re not getting the marks you know you deserve. Everyone constantly put it down to laziness which made everything worse for me, I knew I wasn’t a lazy person but no one else seemed to understand that. It has been incredibly detrimental on my self esteem and my belief in myself. I understand that getting your son tested seems like something that isn’t terribly important, but it may not be autism at all, it could be a number of things. As someone who grew up believing she was simply too lazy and just not smart enough to get the grades, reading this article is really hard for me. If my parents had found out about my disorders earlier I would have had support from day one, instead I was merely hammered down and convinced of my mediocrity. Please, do get your son evaluated — you don’t need to tell anyone the diagnosis. As he gets older it could turn out to be something you wish you had done earlier. I wish I had been tested earlier, this isn’t about your pride or how you feel, this is about what your son needs in order to thrive.

    • h

      I had a similar experience. I was a very bright child, to the point where I got a battery of academic and social tests to see if I should move up another grade, despite already being in school a year early. Ultimately I was not emotionally ready because the psychiatrist detected some slight anxiety and attention issues, though in first grade I was reading at grade 6 level and doing math at grade 3 level. So I stayed in my grade, always found school easy, and excelled. Until I got to college at an elite school… then it got so bad that I almost failed out.. I was so ashamed. I had no clue how to get all the work done or study appropriately, and then would be embarrassed and not go to class, which just made things worse. I started going to counseling and we uncovered significant anxiety and I was also diagnosed with adhd inattentive type, at age 20. My counselor said that for a long time my intelligence had allowed me to compensate for having pretty low executive functioning my entire life. What was seen as little annoyances, like procrastinating and being up until midnight doing 5th grade projects, failing “folder checks” throughout middle school, losing everything that wasn’t attached to me, etc was always brushed aside because I produced in the end. Even back then I remember always feeling completely chaotic all the time. While I do think now there is some over diagnosis going on, we need to recognize what difficulties kids have, even as just that if you feel that a full blown diagnosis is not necessary. That folder in 6th grade that looks like a bomb went off, but is ok because the kid still gets good grades (she is just creative!!!) can turn into a college student up a creek. I graduated, but my transcript will get me laughed out of anywhere. I struggle so much with the idea that I will never be what so many people expected me to be. I cringe when former teachers visit the restaurant where I bartend. Just food for thought. (Not that every kid with a quirk needs a diagnosis, but that those small difficulties should be worked with early).

    • Maddi Holmes

      I’m so sorry you went through that :( My intelligence also covered up my executive functioning issues until the last 2 years of high school when there was much more pressure. It sucks to have been unaware for so long and have no explanation for why you’re falling apart.

    • Shea

      I had a very similar experience. I also have dyscalculia, but wasn’t diagnosed until I was 20 and in university (I was failing my required “quantitative reasoning” course despite working my ass off). Because I’m smart in other areas and have an excellent memory, I managed to squeeze through math in school by memorizing everything and using a lot of work-arounds. Teachers and even my mother (also a teacher) just assumed I was willfully refusing to learn properly. That official piece of paper with my diagnosis got me out of that quantitative reasoning requirement at university, since I just wasn’t capable of learning the material. It would have been very helpful to have earlier in life, since among other things it would have spared me from thinking I was just stupid.

    • rccola

      This could be my story as well. My mom still says she wishes she had gotten me tested earlier because I probably would have done much better! My adult life is a struggle to tend to everything I’m supposed to do.

  • Maddi Holmes

    From what you’ve written (in terms of how he acts at home compared to pre-k) I don’t think your son is autistic at all. It sounds far more likely that he has social anxiety (this is far different to being introverted).

  • Jocelyn James

    Perhaps we should be thinking about why these behaviors are sooo very widespread. No one used to question whether their child was ‘on the spectrum’ because all these quasi-autistic behaviors didn’t exist. Something is effecting the brains of children and for anyone who bothers to look for the reason, it’s not hard to see why.

    • Kat

      If your comment is a less than entirely cryptic anti-vac message then you are confusing the ‘existence’ of behaviours with the diagnosis of those behaviours as being related to a disorder. Then, you are confusing scientific fraud with empirical evidence, correlation with causation. Plenty of people – in honest to god, peer reviewed, actual research – have ‘bothered to look’ for the reason (they call it ‘science’, try it!) and strangely it’s not as simple as a bunch of what are at best well-meaning but unqualified, evangelistic amateurs would have us believe. Of course, if I’m right about you, then I realise that the best available evidence means nothing to you in your ignorant crusade.

      If, however, I misunderstood your comment, then please ignore my rant.

    • Jocelyn James

      You didn’t misunderstand my comment, it is what I was implying, however that ‘implication’ comes from years of extensive research, and years spent doing behavioral training with autistic children and adults. The problem with people like you is that you assume because you’re told something by major news outlets that it’s true without looking at the real research (some of which has been suppressed, by the way, making it that much harder to find). The problem with people like you is that you run to use words like ‘unqualified’, ‘evangelistic’ (not even sure where that comes from), and ‘amateurs’ as a way of disqualifying something that’s uncomfortable to believe, but which is right there, and so obvious. My advice to you would be to do ‘independent’ research. As in, don’t take your information by anything associated with the Murdoch press (and if you don’t know what that means you’ve got a long way to go). Don’t take your news from anyone that profits off your opinion or who has a stake in the research. This is the #1 mistake that people make when researching is to not take notice of who is putting out the research and how they are tied (especially monetarily) to the subject at hand. The fact that an idea isn’t popular has nothing to do with whether it’s true. Good research means understanding this. Give it a shot. The direct correlations between the raising of Thimerosal in vaccines and the prevalence of autism is incredible, and it says a lot that the general public can be swayed so easily to ignore the oh so obvious fact that consuming poison does usually cause problems.

    • Kat

      Oh, could you please enlighten me about the Murdoch press? I tried to find out all about it, but it seems really complicated so I just watched Fox news instead … But seriously, all I’ll say is that you lost me at ‘oh so obvious fact consuming poison does usually cause problems’ which shows how uncritically you’ve approached the issue.

    • Véronique Houde


    • Simone

      No one used to question whether their child was ‘on the spectrum’ because the concept of a spectrum didn’t exist. Sometimes in society we create a drug or a disorder, and then match up existing behaviours to that structure. Surprisingly ADHD wasn’t a problem until Big Pharma came up with a new drug that they wanted to sell.
      Of course some people do have real issues that need help and medication but that isn’t happening more now than it used to, it’s just being diagnosed more often – correctly or incorrectly.

  • 88Mwife

    Thank you for this post. Well I guess technically thank you for writing this post, so others could comment on it. I have struggled my whole life with procrastination, organization, and socialization. At the same, I always tested off the charts, insofar as IQ testing went. I struggled through school, always doing brilliantly on tests but constantly in danger of failing because I just wouldn’t do my homework. My whole life I’ve been told I was a lazy people pleaser ( I struggle with saying no-the thought of letting others down petrifies me) and just needed to apply myself. I believed it, and dropped out of college when it became clear that I couldn’t self-motivate to complete my schoolwork. 2 years later even procrastinated planning my wedding, forgetting to call caterers and schedule fittings! It was a disaster.
    However, after reading this article (and the comments) I made an appointment with a psychologist and I think I may finally get some answers! I feel confident, for the first time in a long time.

  • JLH1986

    As someone who works in the mental health field (usually those who would diagnose someone on the spectrum). I would suggest evaluating him this way: Are any of these behaviors causing impairment in his life? If he’s lonely, expressing sadness he’s lonely or doesn’t have many friends, can’t be interested in anything except say trains or something and that’s impairing his education etc. then worry. If it’s not causing any major impairment I think it’s ok to wait a bit and see where the chips fall. I assume he’s either been at home with mom or in a daycare with kids he’s always been around which is going to cause some adjustment issues. Everyone is quick to get a diagnosis, because now there is a “reason” their child acts a certain way (or their behavior is easily explained to others). Yes early intervention is helpful in tremendous ways, but I always urge clients (and parents of clients) not to let a diagnosis define them, it’s self fulfilling. Oh I have ADHD? Well I “can’t” pay attention in class and no one expects them to pay attention because they have ADHD.

    • BubbleyToes

      I am also a mental health professional and I was going to write something exactly like this comment. If it is not impairing parts of his life, then it’s not something you must worry about at this instant. A lot of people meet many of the criteria for many mental health issues in the DSM. Just because you have symptoms, doesn’t mean that you have to label yourself with a diagnosis if it’s not interfering with you life. That’s one of the first things they taught me in school. “We’re going to study a lot of different mental illnesses. You or someone you know WILL meet some of these criteria. If it wasn’t bothering your life before you read the criteria, then you probably don’t have schizophrenia/bipolar/OCD/etc..”

    • JLH1986

      I was shocked at the number of parents bringing 4 year olds in because “johnny can’t sit still and he has a hard time watching a move”. Um he’s FOUR of course he does! “Well he is always on the go and I just can’t get a minute to breathe!” Again, he’s four this is normal. “I don’t know maybe you can refer him to a psychologist for Ritalin or something?” Ugh. If everyone is managing in life just fine…let it be. Heck I’VE met several diagnosis in the DSM in grad school. lol I was hoping with the 5 I’d show up less! ;)

    • BubbleyToes

      LOL I felt the same about the 5! And yes…I’ve had parents say they think their 3 year old is bipolar…what 3 year old is NOT bipolar? They all have mood swings and have a hard time expressing their needs sometimes so they get upset. That is a normal thing for a child. They’re not supposed to be able to control every emotion they feel, they are 3.

  • Pingback: That Kind Of Mother | Welcome to the Motherhood()

  • pixie

    I’m not a parent, an expert on child psychology, or a pre-K teacher, but I have spent a good deal of time around very young children helping out at my martial arts studio. I agree with the commenters who say don’t worry about getting your son checked out unless there’s major life-impacting behaviours. I have seen a wide array of behaviours from four year olds, everything from chatting up a storm, hugging everyone they see, and instantly making friends, to very shy and reserved children who take weeks to warm up to new faces. My martial arts place fortunately offers a month of free lessons to children to try out the classes and if we think a young child isn’t quite ready and doesn’t have the attention span, we let the parents know. Most of the time the parents are very understanding (they’ve stayed and watched their four year old lay on their back, humming to themselves, while the instructor is trying to teach the class), but I have unfortunately seen four year olds come back medicated (parents say their child was diagnosed with ADHD) to the point of acting like zombies for simply acting like four year olds. Again, I’m not an expert on child psychology, but from what I’ve seen of four year olds, a lot of them have very short attention spans and lots of energy.
    On a more personal note, when I was in the third grade my teacher decided she didn’t like me. I zoned out in class, fidgeted a lot, and did other things that I can’t remember. Despite the fact that I did exceedingly well previously in school, I got very low marks and she advised my parents to test me for autism (this was before it was the buzzword but it was probably gaining popularity) to be put in special ed because I must be stupid. Both my parents and my GP decided she was nuts and didn’t get me tested. The teacher didn’t realize I was taking in all the information she gave us while I was “zoned out” and didn’t think it possible. My parents found out after we weren’t the first to have this type of issue with this teacher. The teacher was absolutely shocked that I nearly got into the gifted program through the testing students did in grade 4. Unfortunately, they told my parents that while I was smart enough for the gifted program, I wasn’t organized enough. After that I continued through school not being challenged, so I decided I would do the minimum work. I did homework while in class and never studied for tests. I still managed to graduate from high school on honour roll. I finally learned to get my act together in my undergrad and put an effort into school thanks to some awesome profs who believed in me. I’ve just started grad school. Suck on that, third grade teacher. I have never been tested for anything. I probably show signs of various things, but my biggest issue is a lack of motivation that causes procrastination, which was most likely caused by years of crappy teachers and I work really, really hard to get things done.
    Teachers will try to diagnose children or encourage parents to get their child diagnosed because of things they’ve been taught. Worse, some parents try to get their children diagnosed at a very young age for displaying normal but unfavourable behaviour (yes, I understand your three year old is a bundle of energy and sometimes throws a tantrum, but he’s three). Do what you feel is right. Give him time to warm up. If he seems overly stressed after a month or so, by either indicating verbally or through his actions, then perhaps see a professional about possible social anxiety.

    • AP

      A friend and I once joked that you’re not officially smart unless you’ve had an elementary school teacher say you’re disturbed or mentally ill and try to expel you. Between the two of us (different states), everyone we knew who’d been in constant trouble in elementary school had grown up to be a highly educated and successful professional.

    • pixie

      Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s had this issue! Seriously makes me question the choices my school district made in hiring teachers. And I’m in Canada, so it’s not just an American thing, either.

  • http://www.3under3andaphd.blogspot.com/ 3under3andaphd

    For anyone out there who may be wondering….autism and adhd have to be across MULTIPLE settings to be diagnosed! A child does not fall on the autism spectrum or have ADHD if they do not exhibit these same ‘symptoms’ at home. (This comes from an undergraduate degree in special education, 4 years as a special education teacher in alternative school settings, a master’s in counseling and another year working in juvenile detention centers–as well as having a child who would be considered by most ADHD)

  • MamaLlama

    Ok, I just posted on a comment after the author’s comment but to anyone who might like my two cents….. Looking at the list above, consult from a professional may not result in a ‘label’ (in many states that would not come from the educational professional but instead a medical professional for the record) but instead may provide the teacher, mom, and the child some accommodations to help the child in the learning environment. Such as:
    A picture/written schedule to help with transitions and decrease tantrums,
    Prompts to help him identify why it’s important to listen to the speaker, transition to a new task, get him out of his ‘own’ world
    Sensory integration to help with tantrums
    Ways to increase nonverbal and verbal comprehension since he doesn’t ‘cant do things he’s asked’
    Social narratives to help him understand eye contact, social situations, etc.
    I could keep going but often speech therapists (and occupational therapists) work with verbal students on the other parts of language (comprehension, social language, turn taking, etc). The child doesn’t have to be nonverbal to benefit from early intervention. I’ll get off my soap box now.

  • Lyndzy

    Thank you so much – reading your article has made my day. I am having exactly the same conversations about my son at his school and it is reassuring to know that I am not alone.

  • LZ

    This fits my son to a T. He also has sensory issues, and believe it or not, he’s NOT autistic. At home, and with cousins he’s a totally different kid than he is at school and in new situations. We took him to UC Santa Barbara autism clinic and they got to spend a week with him. By the end of the week they said, “He’s not autistic.” That was my gut feeling, but like the other posters said early intervention is so important so we took him. He’s 8 now and is starting to like to join in, rough house with other boys, go on the scariest rides at the waterpark, charge huge ramps skateboarding etc. He’s still a major introvert who loves facts, but he’s for sure not autistic.

  • Susan

    A helpful book for exploring autism and developmental delays is available on amazon.
    The book Is My Child Autistic or Delayed? by Susan Louise Peterson discusses many issues related to possible autism and developmental delays.

  • SheeshMommy

    My son’s Pre-k teacher screamed autism too. He was a very reserved kid and she thought his calmness was odd. So we had a meeting and I said no, when he’s comfortable in your class he won’t be so reserved. When he knows the kids next to him, he’ll jump right in. etc. He had a wonderful kindergarten teacher that got him out of his shell pretty good. Now my son is in first grade (only been in school for a month) and his teacher is screaming ADHD because he talks too much. Now I don’t even know what to do. It seems like so many teacher want to diagnose kids on any behavior that pops up. She wasn’t even open to it being anything else. The response I got was “well I’ve been teaching for 26 years so I know what it looks like.”. First they were complaining that he was too quiet, now he’s too talkative.