Q: My child was born late in my marriage and appears slow in development.
A: It sounds like it might be autism; if so, begin testing and treatment as soon as possible.
My son just turned 5 years old. As he was a late baby, I decided not to go back to work,
staying at home with him instead so that I can give him special attention. Despite this, he
appears to have a learning problem when compared to other kids his age. He can only say a few
words, such as daddy and mommy, and "I don't like it." According to my in-laws, his uncle was
a slow learner but is normal now. I'd like to believe the same for my son, but a few days ago,
his pre-school teacher said that he needed to be tested. My husband and in-laws are furious with
me for even suggesting that there might be something wrong with our boy. I am worried. I want
to get him tested, but I don't know if I can deal with the results, knowing that he might not
progress. What should I do?
A: You owe it to your son to get him tested as soon as possible. Only in this way will you resolve
your doubts and get him the help he may need. A diagnosis of slow learner does not mean he
will not progress. Rather, it describes a condition that will require special attention; one
that cannot go unattended, ignored, or wished away. The sooner you have a diagnosis, the sooner
you will be able to address his needs.
Children like your son are not so unusual. Some are late boomers and improve in time without
intervention. In intelligence, learning ability, and physical and social development, others
may remain 2-5 years behind other children their age, even after the 2nd and 3rd grade in
Such developmental delay may indicate mental retardation, which can be easily tested for and
identified. The categories are as follows: an IQ of 71-84 is considered to be borderline; 50-70
indicates light retardation; 35-55, medium; 20-40, severe; and under 20, extreme.
Children who test in the retarded range also have learning disabilities, exhibiting difficulty
in reading, writing, counting, verbalization, and comprehension. With overall development slow,
they may be delayed in infancy with speaking and various other developmental motor skills, such
as walking, turning, sitting, etc. Further, they may have difficulty using scissors, tying their
shoes, buttoning and zipping up their clothes, and in many cases, with toilet training.
In some cases, the symptoms mirror those of autism, a disorder found in infants and toddlers
that usually appears in the first year of life and always by age 3. This condition interferes
with the child's ability to develop normal social relationships, as well as the development of
normal intelligence. It is different from mental retardation, distinguished by compulsive and
ritualistic behavior. Autistic kids commonly show noticeable hyperactivity and poor concentration.
Although there has been an increase in the number of cases of autism in recent years and a
great deal of research is being conducted, the actual cause of autism is still not known.
However, there are indications of a genetic component.
Some autistic children may also be geniuses of a sort, often referred to as "idiot savants",
able to perform remarkable feats of mathematical calculation, musical and artistic prodigy,
or tricks of memory, as though by way of brain compensation. Yet they remain isolated and
alienated from normal affection and socialization.
Regardless of the classification, if your child is challenged in any of the above ways,
you will need to learn the best methods of caring for him, and prepare him for his future.
Most importantly, be advised that neither you nor your husband is to be blamed for his
condition. In all but a few cases, such conditions are the result of genetic defects,
which you have no control over.
Fight against the tendency to feel ashamed about bringing a child with special needs into
the world. Despite advances in the field of genetic mapping, technology is not yet
advanced enough to identify the genetic causes of all the pertinent complex chemical
functions involved with the development of intelligence.
Nothing you did or could have done would have made the slightest difference if your son's
condition has a genetic cause. But you can do something now: accept him and accept
yourself without blame, and love him just as you would any child of your flesh. If
this sounds an easy prescription, I know that it may not be.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Your son may very well be delayed like his uncle,
and go on to be perfectly normal. Similarly, very often in the case of borderline
retardation, early intervention treatment can be effective in helping him catch up
top normal levels.
If you explain the importance of testing as a way of eliminating your doubts so that you
and your husband may decide the best course of action to take for your son, it would
seem hard for your husband and in-laws to object.