One of my favorite fictional characters is Sherlock Holmes, and one of his characteristics which has always fascinated me is his inability to stop noticing things. He is constantly observing, thinking, and deducing (and then smacking people in the face with those deductions) — and his interpersonal skills and relationships suffer as a result.
Now, not to claim that I am anything like Sherlock Holmes, but I find myself in a small “interpersonal” predicament because of my observations, and I’m not sure how to proceed — so I’m going to lay out the situation to my Cranquistadors, and see what you folks recommend.
I’m pretty sure that my friends’ daughter is autistic, and I don’t know how to bring it up to them…
The child (we’ll call her Ana) is 3 years old. I’ve known her for a year, mainly because she attends the same Children’s Church meetings as my older Boy Cranquis. When I first met Ana, I assumed she was just a skittish and shy child — she would cling to her mother during noisy songs and she would begin crying if she was asked to stand up or do anything in front of the other children during story time. Other kids her age did that too, so no big deal.
But as time went by, the other kids matured, and Ana hasn’t. Every week at church, she is equally petrified of the same silly stuffed cat-puppet, reduced to screaming and tears as she hides her face in mother’s arms when the puppet is brought out. When the kids rings bells or smack toy drums for certain songs, she covers her ears and cowers in her seat. She doesn’t make eye contact with anyone, even people she has now known for many months, and she rarely smiles except when she is playing by herself.
More recently, I had the chance to see how Ana behaves in her own home, and it was surprisingly similar… and possibly worse? She had the normal “selfish toddler” reactions when my son started to play with her toys, but she couldn’t stop crying about it. She only finally quit crying when her mother told her she could “go play in her castle” — which turned out to be the hallway coat closet. According to her parents, Ana spends a lot of time playing in the coat closet, door closed, light off, just sitting in the closet with her toys. Strange, no?
Part of my hesitancy to mention anything to her parents is because I know, through Mrs. Cranquis, that Ana’s father has raised the possibility of autism before, but Ana’s mother quickly rejected that idea, telling him “She’s just shy like I was when I was a girl.” So I don’t want to create any division in the family. And yet… the earlier that autism is diagnosed and proper interventions/modifications are started, the better the child responds. Ana isn’t my patient, or my child — but she is a child, a child with potential and life and vigor. Shouldn’t I speak up to help that child, just as I would speak up if I saw a child with obvious symptoms of a dangerous infection?
And so, like Sherlock, I’ve observed some clues which have led to a deduction, and I feel compelled to lay out my conclusions, but I want to do so in a more compassionate way than the Great Detective would. I don’t think Ana’s parents would hate me (forever) if I brought up my theory to them, but I’m sure they’d be embarrassed by the conversation. YET… if MY child was displaying symptoms of the autism spectrum, I would want someone to point it out to me ASAP, if I hadn’t already realized it myself.
Have any of you ever had to propose a diagnosis about a friend or a friend’s child in a non-clinical “social” setting? I guess I just don’t know how to proceed in this non-clinical setting. Do I write an email? Do I print out a list of “autism spectrum symptoms”? Do I just start talking loudly about autism within their earshot?
Any constructive advice you folks can provide would be very appreciated.
[Incidentally, the reason I used Sherlock Holmes as an example in this post is because his behavior is also quite autistic, don’t you think?]