Friday, October 16, 2009

What's the Difference?

Many times as I've described Asperger traits to other parents - especially those who have toddlers - they express that their child does some of those things too. So, what's the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown?

This is Little Guy having a major meltdown during a recent family outing.

The truth is, some of the problem behaviors found on the autism spectrum are similar to what many caretakers see during the "terrible twos"; the difference is in the intensity and frequency of the autistic behaviors. A good example of this would be Little Guy's eating habits. Many toddlers are notorious for being picky eaters at times, but I can count ON ONE HAND the foods I know my son will eat. In fact, Little Guy is so sensitive that if his preferred foods are not a certain brand he WILL NOT EAT them. Someone once suggested if I let him go hungry for a while, Little Guy would eat food out of hunger. THIS IS NOT THE CASE. Little Guy is not refusing foods to be contrary or stubborn; most foods seem repulsive to him due to the sight, texture, smell, or other sensory issues. No amount of bribing, tricking, or cajoling has helped remedy this behavior. It impacts our family on a daily basis; it affects my shopping, our choices of restaurants when we go out to eat as a family, and how I plan for trips.

Another way to gauge if a child is at risk for being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder is whether he has the majority of the markers, or just a few. For example, Middle Guy was also a picky eater and liked to line things up as a toddler - two markers experts look for in diagnosing autism. Yet, Middle Guy exhibited no other concerning behavior, and it is very clear at this time that he is definitely not anywhere close to being on the spectrum.

So again, when a child has a few behaviors that are similar to those on the spectrum there's no reason to automatically worry. A good indication of concern is how many of the behaviors a child exhibits, how often they occur, and how intense the behaviors are. Another good question to ask yourself is if the behavior impacts or disrupts your family on a daily basis. If so, it could indicate an underlying problem such as an autistic spectrum disorder.

However, if you feel uncomfortable or unsure about your child's behavior, the best thing to do is to talk about it with your child's doctor or a developmental specialist; because the earlier a diagnosis is made, the better the outcome can be.

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