In the early 1940s, physicians Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger--working independently of each other--studied a number of children who showed, in Kanner’s words, “autistic aloneness.” These children had a preference for objects over people, and actually seemed to tune out everyone around them. They also exhibited language difficulties as well as problems in nonverbal communication. Soon, children who shared these traits were described as having autism.
Now, many decades after these doctors performed their groundbreaking work, the diagnosis of autism still relies heavily on the criteria provided by Kanner and Asperger. Most experts diagnose autism largely by evaluating social interaction, language acquisition, and nonverbal communication. While this may be an effective means of determining if a child is autistic, it presents a problem: Social interaction and communication skills are usually not apparent until a child is two years of age, and perhaps even older. Yet experts agree that the sooner intervention is provided, the better the outcome for the child. We now know that autism is a sign of neurological impairment--damage to the brain. During a child’s first year, the brain is developing rapidly and is better able to compensate for areas that are not maturing properly. While experience shows that appropriate therapy can help even older autistic children overcome many of their problems, therapy could be so much more effective if it were begun earlier in life.
For almost two decades, our research has shown us a way to identify the signs of autism without relying on socialization or language skills. By observing the atypical movement patterns of babies and using our combined specialties--movement analysis and neuroscience--to understand these behaviors, we have learned that some potential signs of autism and Asperger’s syndrome can be seen as early as the first few months of life. This book was designed to share our findings with you.
Does Your Baby Have Autism? is the first book to provide a means of identifying autism during a child’s first year--before he acquires language and begins to interact with others. By viewing videotapes of infants who were later diagnosed as having autism or Asperger’s syndrome, and comparing them with videotapes of nonautistic children of the same age, we have been able to identify motor skill problems that may indicate the neurological impairment associated with these disorders. During the first year of life, the typical infant learns to right himself, crawl, sit up, and walk, and each of these milestones is achieved through specific movements. This gives us benchmarks against which we can evaluate the motor development of autistic-to-be kids. What we have found is that autistic children show movements that are very different from those of typical kids. In the past, many parents of autistic children seem to have known “intuitively” that there was something wrong with their infant--only to be told to wait until the signs of autism were more evident, and could be identified by professionals. But now you don’t have to be an expert in child development to identify autism-related behavior. With the help of this book, any parent, grandparent, or other caregiver can easily spot the telltale movements that indicate a potential neurological problem.
Does Your Baby Have Autism? begins by providing a concise history of autism, defining the disorder, and examining how the modern medical community diagnoses and treats autism and Asperger’s syndrome. We then introduce you to our research, and most important, to our revolutionary way of detecting movements that can signal the development of these conditions.
Chapter 2 explores symmetry and explains how your understanding of this concept can help you identify children who may later develop autism. Human beings are symmetrical not only in their physical makeup, but also in the way they move. This is important because it makes it easy to see the asymmetrical movements that can indicate neurological problems such as autism.
Reflexes are the subject of Chapter 3. This chapter will first fill you in on the reflexes that are present from birth, and then look at some reflexes that are acquired during the first year of life. You will learn that in a typical infant, these reflexes appear and fade at predictable times. When they don’t act as expected, they interfere with motor development, providing another means of identifying children who may have autism.
Chapter 4 introduces the Ladder of Motor Development--the transitional process that a baby experiences as he moves from relative helplessness to the independence enjoyed when he masters walking. Again, the average baby’s movement up the ladder is fairly predictable. But the progress of a child with autism generally does not conform to that of the nonautistic child.
Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 each examine an important rung on the Ladder of Motor Development. Chapter 5 focuses on righting; Chapter 6, on crawling; Chapter 7, on sitting; and Chapter 8, on walking--the zenith of the ladder. In each chapter, you will first learn how this motor milestone is reached by the typical infant. You will then see the problems encountered by children who were later diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Throughout each chapter, illustrations will help you understand exactly what you should be looking for. Just as important, a What You Can Do section will first guide you in effectively observing and recording your child’s progress, and then provide exercises and activities that can promote your infant’s motor development.
Chapter 9, “Seeking Help,” assists you in doing just that. The chapter begins with tips on effectively explaining your child’s motor problems to your infant’s doctor. It then introduces you to several programs that can provide your infant with the help he needs. Finally, it discusses the option of putting together a team of specialists, therapies, and activities that are specifically geared for your child.
We know that because you are so close to your baby and care for him on a daily basis, you are the person most likely to first observe problems in infant behavior. For that reason, we have included in this book many of the tools you’ll need to assist your child. A handy Observation Journal, which begins on page 000, offers a place for you to note your observations of your child’s movements, helping you create a clear picture of his development. A Suggested Reading List gives you an opportunity to learn more about autism and Asperger’s, and a Resources section guides you in finding appropriate programs and therapists.
One of our goals in writing this book has been to foster communication between you and your child’s physician. We believe that once you are able pinpoint atypical movement patterns and show them to your doctor, he will be more willing and better able to help you. Many parents feel that something may be amiss with their child, but are unable to convey the problem to their child’s doctor. This book is intended to fill the gap between parent and physician.
Body movements are an external mirror of the workings of the nervous system. Once you learn about the specific motions associated with autism, we believe you can identify at-risk infants when they are only six to eight months of age. This doesn’t mean that your baby won’t require help in climbing the Ladder of Motor Development. It does mean that your child will be able to get the assistance he needs at a time when it is easiest for him to learn, grow, and move toward a more fulfilling future.
Before you turn the page and start learning more about autism, we want to make one more important point. If others insist that your child’s problems will work out in time, but you feel that he needs help now, you must act on your beliefs. Remember that you are your child’s first and best advocate. Stick to your guns.