Early autism diagnosis: everyone, yes, EVERYONE might be wrong

It took three tries before our doctor would refer us to a paediatrician for our daughter.

"She's fine," he would tell us, "kids develop at different paces."

At daycare, they told us Natalie was just fine. We tried to pin them down on several occasions, with the same result.

"Yes," they nodded wistfully, " she doesn't play with kids that much. But that's nothing, really. We see it all the time. She's fine."

Even when we got referred to a community agency that worked with kids with developmental disabilities, we couldn't get anything other than a reassuring pat on the shoulder. No one would say the suspected that she was autistic. They scheduled her for a diagnosis - in 18 months. They didn't seem concerned -- they left us feeling less anxious . S private diagnosis was

When she reached kindergarten, we took her to meet the learning aides, and the people in charge of administering to special needs. We told her that we were concerned and was on a public health waiting list to have her diagnosed. They told us she would fit in to school with little or no problem. Even when pressed, no one would venture an opinion about autism.

No one would recommend getting an immediate private diagnosis. No one would say that they even believed there was a possibility that Natalie had autism, as if they were all trying to avoid some sort of moral liability.

It's not due to negligence and it's not their fault. The warning signs can be so slight that it's easy to err on the side of optimism. So they did, and we wouldn't read between the lines, because it was far more comforting to trust the people who we thought were the experts.

No one wants to be the first messenger. No one wants to put themselves on the line, put the parents through that kind of stress, and then turn out to be wrong. Including ourselves. So we accepted their recommendations gladly.

It wasn't until we took her to meet her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Roberts, who was one year away from retirement and didn't give a fat rat's asperger about the gentle politics of patting parents on the back. But it took some coaxing. A few minutes into the meeting, we asked what she thought of Natalie.

"Kids develop at different speeds," she said, and I had heard enough.

"Look," I said, irritated. "I'm not asking for a diagnosis. I'm not asking for a legally binding decision. I'm asking for your opinion -- just you're damned opinion -- based on 30 years of working with children going into kindergarten."

Like a shot, she responded, "I think she has autism. I think you should have her assessed."

That was what it took. One single person to have the courage to speak their mind. Two days later, we had her assessed privately. Two weeks later, she was diagnosed.

If I could give one piece of advice, it would be this: remember that no one wants to give you bad news and everyone wants to give you hope. Remember that, because you will likely take their caution as evidence that you are overreacting.

The most difficult step is the first one.

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