Can My 21-Month-Old Son Be Autistic?

Reader’s Question

I am a mother of a 21-month-old who was born 6 weeks early. He has always been behind and “petite”. Recently however, I have noticed some changes that have me questioning whether my son has some “mild” Autistic traits. Being that he is 21 months old, he “scoots” on his bottom to crawl, he only stands when holding my hand for fear of falling (he screams when I attempt to let go), he does not walk yet, he just learned to say “ma ma”, he calls everything a “ball”, he points to everything and grunts (which is frustrating when trying to determine what he wants/what is wrong), he does not wave bye-bye yet, he has been throwing tempers and becomes greatly frustrated in an instant such as if his ball rolls under the table, he refuses adult foods and often baby foods, but for the most part, he will eat rice cereal with jar baby food in it. If he eats anything “chunkie”, he will scream and make me take it out of his mouth and he will “gag” on the chunkie food. He sometimes does not want to be looked at and will cover his face with his hands and wine if anyone does look at him when he does not want to be looked at. He screams and cries if others hug me and will smile and sometimes laugh immediately when the person stops hugging me. He refuses to hear others sing and will nod his head “no” to get the person to stop singing. I have seen remarkable improvements in the past few months with his development. However, I am concerned that he may have some traits of Autism. Can you tell me if some of these listed are in fact, indications of Autism? He does for the most part, enjoy others…He loves to be chased around a room and will scream in laughter if he is chased. He loves to watch and play with other children. Just recently, he became fascinated with “Barnie” and loves the music…Thus, I am confused.

Psychologist’s Reply

Children develop sitting, standing, walking, crawling, and other abilities at a predictable rate and schedule. These specific abilities are called “developmental milestones”. This process of using milestones assumes a normal pregnancy, gestation, delivery, and other factors. Children born six weeks early are often “off schedule” and for that reason, their development is often delayed. It’s also common for different areas of the brain to develop on a different schedule. When this happens, a child will have a combination of abilities that are immature, appropriate, and even above their age level. For the parents, this is confusing. Fortunately, after a few years the child has caught up with their peers and away they go.

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My first thought is Autism is unlikely. I wouldn’t be worried about that at this time. His ability to enjoy play with others and even be jealous of people hugging you doesn’t sound autistic. You are likely to see an uneven pattern of development and problems today may totally disappear in a few months. It’s like an electrician going into a large building and connecting circuits each day. After a week of work, a new floor lights up. Each day your son’s brain is wiring up circuits as part of normal development. During one week, he’ll start walking and keep going. Another week he’ll start talking…then you’ll have no rest.

In summary, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about here. You might want to ask his pediatrician/physician as a backup.

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