Mary Beth tries not to worry, but the harder she tries the more those fears bubble up. “Maybe our child isn’t quite normal.”
Mary Beth has been a teacher of children with special needs for 10 years. She has witnessed the passion and the energy that such parents typically have for doing what is best for their child—as well as the pain that they carry as they wonder about what the future will hold for their children. Though her two-year-old Sammy is now beginning to put two words together (“Mimi -ouse” for “Let’s go to grandma’ house,” and “uce-me” asking for his favorite apple juice), Mary Beth thinks that Sammy is not as chatty as other kids in the childcare center.
A year ago Mary Beth had read an article on early signs of autism. She remembers that as a newborn Sammy would sometimes look away from her face when she talked energetically. At nine months old he liked to play peek-a-boo but did not cackle quite as intently as his cousin next door did. At eighteen months he would bring her blocks to put in his bucket, but Sammy really preferred to watch them clatter to the floor when he dumped them out.
Mary Beth, her husband, and Sammy just moved to Florida and are scheduled for their first well child visit with a new pediatrician. When they signed up for the practice they were given information about the new CHADIS program [http://www.chadis.com/ ]which helps pediatricians care for their patients with just the attention to a child’s development that Mary Beth wants. She enjoys going online to complete the two special questionnaires (Ages and Stages and M-Chat) that will be a part of Sammy’s two-year-old visit. She immediately notices how well Sammy does on the “communication” section of one form and is hopeful her fears will be settled.
Their first appointment goes well. The nurse working with Dr. Mason has a magic touch with kids. Dr. Mason is thorough in her questions and her physical exam. But most important to Mary Beth, Dr. Mason uses these two questionnaires to reassure her about Sammy’s development. She seems to understand that it is normal for this mother to have more than the average level of worries about autism given her work experience. Handouts they are given describing the variation in normal child development are especially helpful. Dr. Mason even refers Mary Beth and Albert to a video clip which shows how normal newborns can momentarily look away from his parent when he is over-stimulated. [http://www.hugyourbaby.com/skills_video.html]
As they leave the doctor’s office, Mary Beth feels that a great burden has been lifted. Her shoulders relax and there is a new bounce to her step. She looks down at Sammy with “new eyes” as if she sees him today as the energetic, engaging, and thriving little guy he really is! Sammy hides behind the trash can and then pops out with a gleeful “me go” as he runs ahead to his dad standing nearby.