I Thought My Toddler Was Autistic

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little boy walkingA few weeks ago, my husband and I had a heart-stopping day after reading an article on Newsweek, ominously titled, "The Child You Didn't Dream Of," where a rare form of autism called hyperlexia is described. It was as if they were writing about my son. Just like the author of the piece, my husband and I talked often about how our son must be advanced.  We certainly didn't think about his grasp of language and ability to recite the alphabet, stop and read all the letters on street signs, and count to 20 before he turned 2 as a bad thing.

But now, thanks to this piece that offered a lot of anecdotes and not so many downsides, we were scared.

It was one of those things, in some ways, I was just waiting for. We have members of both sides of our families in various places on the spectrum, and it felt somehow we had more than the average person's chance of having a child on the spectrum. So this article confirmed this secret fear. In fact, I'd already made peace with having an autistic child.

I knew it would mean a major adjustment in parenting; working with my child in different ways than my oldest and a change in expectations. Even though I know you can't fully prepare for having a child with special needs, I was mentally bracing myself for the inevitable. Really, this article was a perfect storm. And then we started reading more about hyperlexia and realized there was much more to it than having a smart toddler.

Forgive us if we read the following passage, "He’d developed single words precociously, at a little under a year, started speaking in many two-word phrases at age 2, right on schedule, and now was speaking in longer sentences, just as the parenting books had said he should," and believed that not only did our child have autism, but apparently it's not so bad.

This article was an excerpt from a memoir by Priscilla Gilman, so as she glosses over her son Benjamin's lack of social exchanges, it doesn't sound like anything is really wrong with him. I'm certain if I picked up the book, I would see the challenges her family faced going forward, and she does talk about how he's still developmentally behind at age 12. However, reading about his skill set that was eerily similar to my own son's, and the fact that he "chattered gaily throughout the day," made me pair these qualities with my son's penchant for walking on tiptoes and totally freak out. It was not a pleasant day in our house.

After my husband and I dug in deep (to the Internet, again, which had already been the cause of this panic), we came to the conclusion that our son was not on the spectrum. Even though he isn't as socially outgoing as his older sister was at his age, he still loves to greet people with an enthusiastic, "Hi guys!" and has finally made friends at his day care. He is only 2, and I'm sure I'll have more moments of panic until I decide he's out of the woods. But for now, we're back to thinking he's our little genius baby and that's fine with me.

Which is all to say, try not to trust Dr. Google. While this article, and her memoir, may be a fantastic way to spread awareness about this rare form of autism, a little bit of information can be a dangerous thing.

Have you ever diagnosed your child from something you read on the Internet?


Image via Julie Campbell/shutterstock

autism, developmental delays, toddler health