One of my friends was surprised to discover that HB has only be diagnosed for a little over a year. Her daughter is autistic and high functioning but she knew that her daughter was autistic from birth. She said her daughter didn't look at her which is one of the typical autistic indicators. But people still didn't take her seriously when she told them that her daughter was autistic because of the high functioning thing.
It's very common for girls to get diagnosed later and boys spotted earlier because girls as a whole (non-autistic and autistic alike) tend to be more social than boys.
One of the parents dropping her son off at the bus stop indicated that her son is also autistic. He also has cerebral palsy and some anxiety issues which I think he takes medication for. She also knew early on that he had problems (18 months for his diagnosis). He's in the 4th grade but he's going 1st grade level work. It's frustrating for her because technically he's integrated into a classroom but she'd rather him be placed in a special class. He spends most of his time away from the class as it is. Unfortunately the school district won't do that. Not unless he lags further behind. Thus his social skills aren't being worked on either because cognitively he interacts better with younger children. She's already switched schools once.
As she was explaining her frustrations, my son's best friend (SL) her grandmother perked up. She says she suspects that SL is also autistic and wants her evaluated. So the other parent told her to contact the pediatrician to voice her concerns.
I've interacted briefly with SL. She doesn't give me the autistic vibe that I get from other students. She seems to hold her conversations well and interacts with children and adults. It's possible there's some other things I've missed. And it's possible that she has ADD which share similar symptoms.
So how do you spot the difference?
1) Autistics don't have a wide range of emotions- They are either very happy, very sad, or very angry and violent. You don't get much in between. It's almost like a knee jerk reaction.
2) Autistic children don't feel comfortable playing with peers- They tend to gravitate to adults or babies. They also prefer to parallel play, which is to play next to a peer but no interact directly.
3) They may play with toys differently-And by this I mean taking them apart instead of building buildings, lining them up, or fiddling with them. There's a lack of imaginative play or a delay in it. Handing them a random toy like a cup with saucer might give them a puzzled look rather than instantly piping up and asking if you want to play tea.
4) To some extent there's an issue with sensory stuff- Of course there are non-autistic children who hate getting dirty or being wet or do better with visual cues. This is one piece you look at along with others. Do they refuse to eat certain textures or flavors? Do they refuse to touch certain things like finger paints? Do they hate loud noises? Do they respond better when you show them something as opposed to simply telling them? Do they like being wrapped up in heavy blankets?
5) Don't seem to be paying attention? They interrupt when you are talking. They talk about their own interests rather than interacting with you (obsessions). They don't look at you when speaking. They have stilted or robotic speech. HB doesn't have stilted speech. Occasionally he stutters. Mostly he interrupts and doesn't stick to the subject.
People with ADD may be confused about what you are talking about or look away because they can't focus for very long. They can follow a conversation in short intervals a lot better and can pick up on non-verbal cues like knowing when you are angry or upset. They don't have an issue with pretend or how to play with toys. They have a variety of emotions and don't explode. I think that's the biggest thing between HB and Knee. Knee gets angry and it's slower and he'll go off into his room when he's mad at me. HB acts like a bomb suddenly went off. He screams and throws stuff and pushes you or punches you. There's hardly any fair warning.
And at the age of 5/6 it's real common for the cues of ADD and ADHD to show up, which can look like autism but aren't. It's also true of the opposite. You may suspect ADD or ADHD and hold off on talking to a doctor (like happened when HB was two) only to discover it's more than that. It's not cut and dry which is why it's important for you to seek out a specialist sooner rather than later.