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Life Lessons From Raising An Autistic Child (Part II) – The Diagnosis


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The Preschool Teacher’s Story

Being a preschool teacher is a big responsibility, and believe me, I don’t take it lightly. For these two to three year olds, I’m the first teacher they’ll ever have. My primary concern, of course, is to provide them a safe environment for playing, but I also try to get in some teaching, in a way that’s appropriate for their age. You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish with a two and a half year old. They are constantly exploring, and they’re so curious about their world!

But most of all, I just enjoy being with them. It’s an adorable age, and a smile and hug from one of my little charges is priceless.

Which is why I was concerned about Menachem Goldberg. He didn’t seem to behave like the other children. I never got smiles or hugs from him; he didn’t seek out attention from me the way the other kids did. While most children would play together in small groups, Menachem always kept to himself. His ability to focus didn’t seem normal, either. While he could sit and play with the same toy over and over, at other times he would just wander around the room in circles. All this was aside from the fact that he was two and a half and still not talking.

Now, I’ve been working with this age group for a number of years already, and something here did not seem quite right. So I called up the parents.

Speaking to parents is always tricky. No one likes to hear negative things about a child, and I always play out the conversation in my mind before picking up the phone. How best to phrase what I want to say. How to choose the right words so that I don’t alarm them or sound like I’m digging for problems where there aren’t any. To Menachem’s mother, I said, “Your son is an adorable boy, and I enjoy having him in my class. But I’m getting a sense that there may be some issue here, some problem with his behavior. Why don’t you come in one morning to observe him yourself?”

I hung up feeling pretty pleased with my idea. Rather than me being the bad one and telling the parents a whole list of problematic things about their son, let them come see for themselves, and make their own call.

Menachem’s mother came in the next day. She was a young woman – Menachem was only her second child. She arrived when we were just starting circle time, and this was the perfect opportunity for her to observe what I was talking about. While all the other children sat around in the circle – some more fidgety than others, granted, but sitting more or less in place, Menachem wandered around the classroom, paying no attention at all to what was going on. I glanced every now and then at his mother to try to gauge her impression of this, but she seemed pretty composed. Afterwards, I went over to talk to her.

“So, did you see what I was talking about?” I asked.

She gave me a smile. “Yeah, I did, but I really don’t think it’s such a big deal. He’s a bit of an active kid, and has trouble sitting still. So instead of listening during circle time, he walked around examining the pictures on the wall. Is this really so uncommon for a two and a half year old?”

She seemed so confident in her assessment that I felt relieved I had invited her in to draw her own conclusions instead of telling her of my suspicions. I mean, a mother knows her child best, and if she didn’t feel anything was wrong, then who am I to interfere? I’m not a trained therapist or anything.

I didn’t bring up the issue again. But every now and then, I would still get this niggling feeling inside that something was not quite right…

The Developmental Pediatrician’s Story

When Menachem Goldberg came in for an evaluation, his parents did not seem more than ordinarily concerned. They told me that he was nearing three and still not speaking, and that his speech evaluator had recommended he be given a full developmental evaluation.

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And underneath there exists the same deep desire for connecting with others that all of us have. More desperate, perhaps, because the desire is trapped inside a mind that doesn’t know how to reach out.

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