Why most kids get diagnosed with autism when it’s really this.
Parents and teachers start to look for signs of autism because that is the most common diagnosis out there that focuses on a lack of social skills in kids. As an infant mental health psychologist, I tend to see many toddlers who are referred by their teachers or pediatricians for behavioral problems. Many parents are aware that there are some delays in speech and that their relationship is not where it should be. Teachers note the typical red flags- not participating in circle time, difficulty sharing with others, or making friends, not following directions. And parents, rightfully so, start to freak out.
They start to look for signs of autism because that is the most common diagnosis out there that focuses on a lack of social skills in kids. BUT. At this age, it is hard to tell (unless the symptoms are screaming out loud AUTISM) if it’s autism, PDD (pervasive developmental disorder), or sensory processing disorder. Why? Speech delays and sensory issues can affect social skills in huge ways. Pretend you were sent to Papua New Guinea tomorrow. How quickly are you to make friends there?
In my work, I am very careful with the diagnosis of Autism because I need to see if a solid chunk of therapies in speech and occupation can help the child come out of it or if it is something much more chronic. I always tell parents, the recommendations are the same, whether it is autism or not- speech and occupational therapy and physical therapy as needed. And if parents are having a hard time relating to or parenting their child because of the delays, then we work on that in therapy to make the relationship stronger and the connection between parent and child more palpable. No matter what the diagnosis, our kids need to feel like we have their back as their parents.
What many neurologists, pediatricians, psychologists, and parents overlook is the possibility of Sensory Processing Disorder. To read more on Sensory Processing Disorder, check out the link. This is real and it affects kids significantly. The sooner you figure out if your child has SPD, the easier your life and theirs will be.
This is a cute video on what SPD is explained by a child and based on real terms. Parents! Know that your child isn’t trying to be a pain in the butt. Their issues are real and there are ways of dealing with them and teaching them how to become more or less sensitive. Remember to check out my article on Sensory Processing Disorder.