As I have mentioned before, my eldest daughter, Blossom, has Asperger’s syndrome. In her book Does My Child Have Autism?, doctor Wendy L. Stone explains that:
“There is no debate or doubt: early intervention is your child’s best hope for the future. Early attention to improving the core behavioral symptoms of autism will give your child – and the rest of the family – several important benefits that you will not gain if you take a wait-and-see approach until your child enters school at age four or five. A good early intervention program has at least four benefits: It will provide your child with instruction that will build on his or her strengths to teach new skills, improve behaviors, and remediate areas of weakness. It will provide you with information that will help you better understand your child’s behavior and needs. It will offer resources, support, and training that will enable you to work and play with your child more effectively. It will improve the outcome for your child. For these reasons, an intervention program for your child should be implemented as soon as possible after he or she receives a diagnosis. However … intervention programs that are generic – rather than autism specialized – are less likely to be effective for your child. That’s why as you begin your exploration of early intervention, you must keep in mind that not all interventions are equal.”
We got Blossom early intervention and I cannot begin to describe how much it has helped. She can easily pass for a nerdy Muggle. She has friends. She is able to make new friends because she is able to tell them, with no shame and no hesitation, what she doesn’t understand (any child worth being friends with cuts an Aspy kid some slack once they know there is a problem). I am so happy that Blossom is doing so well.
I’m an Aspy also, but they knew diddly-squat about when I was a kid. In fact, the whole understanding of Asperger’s/Autism has improved so much in the last decade that it is nearly mind-blowing. With understand, comes more diagnosis. More diagnosis is good, considering what a nightmare that a lack of an autism diagnosis can be for autistic kids and families.
Occasionally the news will break out into hysteria that there is a new “autism epidemic” because of the rise in autism diagnosis, but that is just more hyperbolic bad reporting. More kids are getting diagnosed because now professionals are significantly more aware of the myriad symptoms of autism and how to put the clues together to solve the puzzle. There wasn’t even a decent set of diagnostic criteria for the condition until 1987, and the realization that the problem was really an autism spectrum disorder with a huge range of severity didn’t really kick in until after 1995. It’s like dinosaurs. People were digging up fossils for millennia but it wasn’t until 1841 that Richard Owen put the clues together and came up with the concept of dinosaurs. The “rise” in dinosaur discoveries since then doesn’t mean that there is an epidemic of dinosaur fossils – we can just recognize them now and know what to look for.
The concept of “early intervention” was not part of the lexicon until recently, either. Thanks to a very, VERY astute per-school teacher we got Blossom tested (and thus diagnosed) when she was four years old. In a “perfect storm” of luck, we live in a town with a specialist in Asperger’s/autism presentation in girls and women, which is insanely underdiagnosed – much to the determent of hundreds of thousands of little girls. It was only because of this lucky access to a specialist that we were able to get Blossom in treatment so young. Other parents have had to struggle a lot harder to find the answers, and the older a kid is when he/she is diagnosed the more likely it is that he or she has suffered in school and with peers.
That is why, as a feminist and a mother, it drives me batcrap crazy that so many little girls are labeled “quirky” or “difficult” when what they are is “autistic”. Kids on the spectrum and their families have enough issues on their plate without having to deal with gender-bias as well.
I am grateful beyond expression that Blossom got diagnosis and help early and is now thriving. I want the same “luck” for every child. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen until more doctors and teachers are trained to spot autism across it’s varied spectrum, especially when it manifests in little girls.