Is It Autism?
The youngest of my four daughters turned 14 months old today. For several weeks my husband and I have been commenting on her lack of expressive language. Yes, we know she's only 14 months old, and I'm not sure exactly what we are expecting her to be able to say. However, when you're the child of two psychologists with an Autistic older sister, your developmental stages are under a microscope.
The problem is two fold. Our eldest daughter is completely non-verbal and severely cognitively and neurologically impaired in addition to her diagnosis of Autism. Her language skills, both receptive and expressive, have been assessed at the 8 to 10 month old level. She is 13. That gives you a picture.
Juxtapose this with our middle two daughters (now 4 and 3 years of age) who decided to make up for the paucity of language in our household by being as loquacious as possible. To say they are "verbally advanced" is an understatement. No, I mean, every parent brags about their child's brilliance, but my third born in particular is a bit of an anomaly on many levels. For instance, by 10 months she said 8 words and by 14 months she used over 200 words and was putting 2 words together routinely. She was using complete 5-word sentences at 15 months of age. This is not the sister act you want to follow.
So, here's my fourth little angel... toddling around with her indiscriminate "buh" and "duh" and "ba" and a whole lot of insistent screams, grunts, and gestures when she wants something. She is not able to identify her body parts like her "typical" sisters did by (or before) this age. She can clap, blow a kiss, ask for her bottle and say Mama and Dada. She utilizes a functional finger point, with index finger isolated, which gives me great relief since the lack thereof could signify a possible spectrum disorder. She seems very engaged with us, has some imitative skills (another "Phew") and seems interested in her world. Yes, she does some repetitive things, but don't all babies? I'm sure she's fine. So, why can't I silence the little whispering voice in the back of my head, thin and full of trepidation, asking Is it Autism?
I look at my baby girl; her bowed mouth, fat earlobes, and Buddha belly. She grins at me, revealing 6 silly little teeth, with an expression of unbridled love and joy. Is it Autism? I cannot answer this question definitively but I can answer this, as I gaze into her vibrant blue eyes: Does it matter?