The criteria described here below and in our preceding article should serve as potential indicators, and nothing much more. No singly symptom alone can suggest autism. If a symptom or two become more pronounced as the years pass, parents or guardians should be able to look back and see there a pattern of behavior enduring from the toddler years onward. And crucially, always and always, look for limitations of daily functioning. If, the presence of symptoms aside, your daughter is progressing with her school work, enjoying her life, making and keeping friends, then not to worry overmuch.
Regardless, if you believe that some of these signs, collectively, describe your loved one, then evaluation by an expert clinician is probably in order. Be certain, however, that the evaluator, or team of evaluators, you select has specific experience with girls on the autism spectrum.
Some more signs then
· The young lady is typically described as “shy” or “quiet” by her teachers and classmates. Diffidence, in and of itself, does in no way indicate autism, not at all. At the same time though, difficulties with language – either receptive or expressive, or both – could be inhibiting a more active role in conversations, a quicker and more natural response to unfolding social situations or to engagements in the classroom.
· In the same vein, unusual passivity, a sign that your loved one doesn’t know what to say or do. She may be playing it safe, sitting silently, choosing to say nothing out of fear saying something wrong, something inappropriate. Know too that some people with autism are anything but passive, displaying self-assertion, if not outright aggression, at every turn. This conflicting sets of indicators again demonstrate the difficulties of diagnosis.
· You notice changes in her behavior as she enters the teenaged years, a tumultuous time in everyone’s life, with autism or not. The changes will usually come in her social communication, easy and forthright as a young girl, but now troubled, increasingly hard for her. The Hughes Brothers have read accounts of young girls with high-functioning autism coping with the difficulties of social interaction, masking their feelings, allowing even encouraging others to speak in their place. Even the best adaptors, the brightest of young girls, find that this strategy disappoints them amid the whirlwind of social expectations as a teenager. The old tactics of darting and feinting in social encounters no longer work.
· And, finally, a dramatic, inescapable indicator – epileptic seizures. Again, while these seizures may arise from all sorts of disorder in the brain, studies show that seizures are more common among girls with autism than among the male counterparts.
The Hughes Brothers give all the credit, all the sympathy in the world to a young lady who has confronted her difficulties, has found away to function amid those challenges. Should you discover that your daughter is, in fact, autistic, take comfort in the depth and scope of treatments, of potential responses to the disorder. Most public school systems can create a plan appropriate for her particular needs. And many parents consider charter or private schools, where smaller classes, more individual attention can serve her well.
Another alternative perhaps
At the Children’s National Health System, and specifically the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders there, clinicians have developed a cognitive behavioral intervention program called “Unstuck and on Target”, a complete program created to teach autistic kids flexibility, goal setting, and planning. Early trials show the program to be especially for children of elementary-school age placing somewhere on the autism spectrum. Meanwhile, further testing is going forth on the program’s effectiveness for middle- and high-school-aged kids, who face many more challenges each day to their decision-making skills.