“We went through some dark days, when no one knew what was wrong,” remembers mom Genia Lindow, describing a time several years ago when her then 11-year-old son, Shawn, was struggling in elementary school. “We always thought Shawn was fragile, that everything had to be perfect,” says Lindow, because if it were not, her son would become frustrated and lose his temper.
He’d been having behavioral issues, but they couldn’t determine the source of the problem initially. “We went from doctor to doctor trying to find an answer,” she says. “Even though he had been tested, no one would tell us he was autistic.” Finally, her son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that affects language and behavioral development in children.
For many families of autistic children, the Lindows’ story is a familiar one. Parents frequently learn from their child’s teacher that something is amiss but getting to the root cause of behavior or developmental problems takes time.
Pediatricians often take a wait-and-see approach, in part because they don’t have adequate information. “Some children don’t show the behaviors at the pediatrician’s office because of the clinical environment,” says speech pathologist Janna Hacker of Janna Hacker and Associates in Germantown.
“Early intervention — at 12- to 18-months — is best since with intensive therapy, a child [with autism] has the potential to be ready by kindergarten,” she says. Of course, autism can go unrecognized until a child begins first grade or even later, when a teacher eventually picks up on a child’s learning disability.
“Some pediatricians have parents complete a checklist about the child’s development which is helpful unless a parent doesn’t accurately complete the checklist,” says Hacker. That’s why a good diagnosis and parental support can be so important to the health of your family.
Local autism resources
To learn more, the Autism Society of the Mid-South holds monthly meetings, bringing in speakers and sharing information with parents who are new to the world of autism.
Their website, autismsocietymidsouth.org, includes an early warning checklist, events calendar, and web links to the Harwood Center, Boling Center, and more.
Autism Moms Group of Memphis is a Facebook-based support network that shares online and meets monthly to discuss family issues.
Genia and Michael Lindow created Puzzled Parents Network of Collierville, “We made a promise to God for bringing us through this that we’d pay it forward.” That group gathers monthly to provide support for parents. They also have a Facebook page. Check there for meeting times and locations.
Often, parents have a difficult time recognizing the markers of autism: possible language delay, poor social skills, and behavioral issues. The symptoms can be slight or exaggerated, and your child can be high or low functioning, depending upon where on the spectrum he or she falls. If you suspect your child is not developing properly, see a speech pathologist or psychologist who can make an autism diagnosis. Also, download the 100 Day Kit at Autism Speaks, aimed at helping new parents with the autism diagnosis. Just don’t delay. Getting early intervention can make a world of difference to your child.