Your child doesn't have to be Rain Man to be autistic

We didn't diagnose our daughter until she was five. We had no idea that she was autistic.

When we first became concerned about Natalie, it was because she wasn't playing with kids. But I was a loner when I was young, so we passed it off. Besides, she would talk to them if they talked to her first. She just got bored, we reasoned.

Then she often wouldn't answer our questions, and we thought she was just ignoring us. It's a phase, we said.

When she couldn't rhyme words or answer 'why' questions, it wasn't important because look how good she was doing with naming opposites, and who can expect a three year old to know why things are?

None of this could have been autism. Natalie looked us in the eye. She hugged and kissed us. She was happy. She would interact with us. That wasn't autism.

When the warning signs first came, we thought that autism was something a whole lot worse: it meant ignoring people around you, constantly stimming back and forth like Rain Man. It meant becoming violent when someone touched you, like the autistic brother in Something About Mary. It meant mental retardation like the father in I Am Sam.

But it's not. Autism can creep in on the back of a lamb, and some of the warning signs get drowned out by your relief that she isn't presenting all of the warning signs.

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