Sunday, December 04, 2011

Making a List and Checking It Twice

I QUIT: All year long I've been writing down every new word I hear from the little guy, but as of last week, I give up. There are just too many and I can no longer track what's really new or where he might have learned it from. It used to be that I would know if he learned a new word through explicit instruction or from a book, but now he's surprising me at every turn. During last week's wind storms I opened the front door to the gales and he looked out and said, "Breeze?" We were at the park and an egret took flight from a pond and landed on a nearby fence. He announced, "Fence." And today after we took him downtown we were talking about it and I swear he said, "City?" I didn't teach him any of these words, and I don't think we even said them in the immediately preceding conversation. In any case, I think he's off to the races language-wise, so I'm going to stop documenting so aggressively. (At one point a friend heard my complete system for the Jackson words list and asked, "Are you expecting this to have to stand up in court?") The kiddo still doesn't have any grammar to speak of--it's all one word at a time, or at best mimicked compound words or very simple phrases. Still, he manages to communicate just fine one word at a time: "," and we're having a field day chatting about his world.

NOT AUTISTIC: We've reached the 20-month mark, and I now feel safe declaring that Jackson is not autistic. I never had any serious concerns that he was, but everywhere you go as mom these days, they have developmental milestone checklists that are designed to be an early warning system for autism. Jackson has hit the major developmental milestones well within the margin of error (although he's very much a physical/kinesthetic late bloomer), and I was starting to feel like maybe all these warnings were perhaps a bit dramatic--but then I met a little boy at the park who showed me that autism concerns are not merely media hysteria.

I'll call this little boy Jerome. He was 10 days younger that Jackson, i.e. just about 20 months old. Through talking with his mom, I learned that Jerome isn't walking yet, and that he only has three words: mama, dada and duck. From listening to him I found that his "mama" is of the "Maamamamamamama" exploring-sounds variety of "word" that you would hear in a 12-month-old, rather than a clear "mama!" In addition, Jerome's play appeared to consist of highly repetitive behaviors to the exclusion of anything else, he didn't interact easily with people other than his mother, and he had what appeared to be a physical tic where every few seconds his legs stiffened while his arms simultaneously performed a seemingly automatic hula-girl move. As I watched Jerome play in the sand, side by side with Jackson, every autism alarm in my head was going off, and I was terrified I was going to have to be the one to gently suggest to his mother that Jerome might need early intervention, but thankfully, further friendly conversation with his mom revealed that he was already under the care of a physical therapist and an occupational therapist because of his "eye-rolling thing." Thankfully, Jerome had a very devoted, informed mama who will no doubt ensure that he gets the most loving and appropriate care possible, if he is, in fact, facing a developmental delay.

For me, however, meeting Jerome put Jackson's bright and cheerful personality and his natural verbosity in context. Apparently those attributes aren't necessarily evident in every single kid. So while it may sound ridiculous, as a nervous modern mama, I'm grateful that my little guy avoided this particular issue, which seems to be so prevalent in so many quarters these days.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

:( Often too you'll see mom's "count" words that there possibly ASD children will "say", but really they don't sound like words at all. Eg. "mamamamamamamam". Or, they might count words said nine months ago, like "meatball", that have never been spoken since. Denial can be so sad, because with ASD, early intervention is critical. The Wait and See approach can really end up hurting a child in the long run.