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Autism and the Thomas Sowell You Haven’t Read

 

51CRJ5V7UfL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Most people know Thomas Sowell from his political writing. I came by Thomas Sowell differently: My kids didn’t start talking until they were well past the age of three. During those non-verbal months, plenty of parents, teachers, doctors, and others suggested my twins were autistic. Sowell’s book, Late Talking Children, was a reasoned counterpoint to that suggestion, not to mention my lifeline to sanity.

This lengthy post (and it IS lengthy!) is for any parents or grandparents with little ones that don’t hit their growth milestones on time, raising the question of autism. I sincerely hope it helps.

My twins were born in 2001. At 36 weeks, they weren’t too premature, but they were small and had to spend time in neonatal intensive care gaining strength. In those first weeks, my husband and I were stressed but overjoyed, especially since we had struggled to conceive.

After six months, however, a new stressor reared its head: Our kids weren’t meeting their developmental milestones on time. The early 2000s was a time of growing autism awareness, especially in New Jersey, which currently has the highest autism rate in the country (As to whether that’s true and why? Well, that’s worthy of a scholarly tome).

One of the signs of autism is a failure to meet milestones by medically-accepted dates. Our pediatrician, rightfully, was concerned when our twins were late raising their heads, sitting up, standing and walking. He was further concerned when they had no recognizable words at age two. While most kids have some language at that point, my son babbled consonants. My daughter, in contrast, was for the most part silent.

Our doctor suggested we call Early Intervention Services. New Jersey pays (or New Jersey taxpayers pay) for specialists to conduct a home visit and evaluate your child. If your child is found to be significantly “delayed”, you’re entitled to “free” in-home therapy (thanks, taxpayers!) until the child is school age. At that point our doctor wasn’t prepared to say our kids were disordered. However, he felt speech therapy couldn’t hurt and might even help.

Initially, we balked. After all, we had twins, and it’s not uncommon for twins to take longer to mature. Besides, it was clear that even though our kids weren’t talking, they comprehended speech. They responded to our requests and answered/asked questions by pointing. My non-verbal daughter even started inventing signs to communicate; she mimed “read to me”, for example, by holding her palms together and then opening them like the spine of a book.

They’ll talk when they’re ready, I figured. And then when the kids were around two-and-a-half, I enrolled them in a Gymboree-style play program and started to worry. Their peers were chattering and forming short sentences. In contrast, my son was still repeating hard consonant sounds. While the other kids asked mommy to “pway ball”, my daughter could only point at the ball and grunt, with her grunts becoming angrier the longer I took to respond. In terms of communication, it was all very Quest for Fire.

Scared, I consulted a second pediatrician. She told me there was “definitely something going on” with my children and even had a name for it: autism. She urged me to contact the Pediatric Specialized Services of a prestigious research hospital for a developmental evaluation “before it’s too late”. With autism, the earlier the intervention, the better. Tick-tock.

I returned home from that appointment devastated. The first tearful call I made was to my husband, who told me he was coming home and to take things “one thing at a time” (he’s the the level-headed one). The second call was to the Specialized Services the doctor mentioned. To my shock, there was an eight-month wait for an autism evaluation. Was there an autism epidemic in New Jersey? A shortage of qualified doctors to evaluate? Or was this all hysteria?

I was still upset when my husband returned home. That’s when he told me about a man named Thomas Sowell who had a son, John, who didn’t start talking until around age four, yet grew up to be a bright and non-autistic young man. Mr. Sowell had even written a book about it: Late-Talking Children.

I obtained a copy of this little gem in short order and devoured it as only a panicked parent can. Mr. Sowell wrote the book in 1997, when autism was becoming a more common diagnosis. He relates that his son, John, didn’t start talking until three-and-a-half or so. Like my kids, John was born prematurely, and like my kids, it was clear that he understood speech and communicated through pointing and gestures. He also exhibited a remarkable memory and early proclivity for math. Mr. Sowell took him for evaluations by various experts, all of whom were confounded as to why John wasn’t talking. And yet talk John eventually did, growing up to become a math-and-chess whiz and a computer programmer.

Late-Talking Children is in part a summary of the responses Mr. Sowell received after he published an account of his son’s delayed speech in his column. Readers contacted him with similar accounts, and their stories contained interesting commonalities with ours. Over 60% of Sowell’s survey group of parents with late-talking children had an engineer as a close relative (lots of engineers and accountants in our family). Most of the children had a close relative who played a musical instrument, sometimes professionally (pianists and guitarists in our family). Most of the children were late in potty-training (my son was maddeningly, infuriatingly late). And most importantly to me, many of the parents of late-talking children were given an incorrect autism diagnosis by a well-meaning doctor, teacher, or therapist. Could it be there was nothing “wrong” with my kids and I just needed to let nature take its course?

This was an invaluable insight as we navigated the next months. Specialists from the State came to our house to evaluate our kids, and they both qualified for speech therapy. Our daughter also qualified for occupational therapy for something called Sensory Integration Disorder (“SID”). One of the specialists determined she had SID by picking her up by the ankles and vigorously swinging her back and forth like a pendulum. My toddler daughter didn’t like being swung upside-down by a stranger and started to cry. I thought this was pretty understandable, but the specialist informed us she had “issues with being upside down” that needed to be treated. We politely rejected that offer — everyone needs to talk, but only pole-dancers need to be upside-down.

At the same time, we explored private therapy. A local speech pathologist agreed to see the kids, but cautioned me that they showed signs of Pervasive Developmental Delay, Not Otherwise Specified — a confusing, catch-all condition that was “autism-like”. Another pathologist told me my daughter had speech “apraxia”, and that she would never be able to talk unless she received speech therapy five times a week, indefinitely. Coincidentally, this pathologist was a recent Chinese immigrant. Imagine someone telling you, in a Cantonese accent so thick it’s nearly unintelligible, “I will teach your child to talk!” We were reaching Pythonesque levels of absurdity.

We decided to stick with the State’s weekly speech therapy. I really wish I could tell you it worked, that all those hours of “echoing” and repeating explosives and fricatives did the trick. All I know is, somewhere around age three-and-a-half, my kids started talking. First words, then sentences. Not nearly as clearly or as sophisticated as their peers, but by age five, they had pretty much caught up. Was it the speech therapy? Or did they simply have a longer developmental arc than most?

I had no answers. But at least I could finally relax, take a deep breath, and not fret that my children were autistic — well, for the time being. As it turns out, the autism scare wasn’t over for us yet.

You see, when my son started preschool, the teachers reported he exhibited several “red flags” of autism. Most prominent was his tendency to get so absorbed in a task (usually building) that the teachers had trouble “re-directing” his attention, as well as his “difficulty transitioning” from the Lego table (translation: he cried when they announced he had to move to the “art station” and leave his Lego creation for another kid to dismantle).

Then came public school kindergarten, or what I like to call the Gateway to Hell. His teacher likewise reported “red flags” in my son’s behavior. Dang it all if he didn’t still obsess over those Legos. Moreover, my son lived too much in his head, preferring to build and tinker rather than playing tag or ball with the other boys. He was clumsy. He was autistic-ish.

First and second grades were more of the same. Once, while I was volunteering at a class party, the teacher pulled me aside to tell me she had donned a pair of oversized novelty sunglasses and asked my son, jokingly, “Do I look like a supermodel?” To which my son replied, deadpan, “You’re too fat to be a supermodel.”

I wanted to spontaneously combust from embarrassment. Now, I knew my son didn’t care for this particular teacher. Her habit of forcing the entire class to put their heads down on their desks due to the infraction of one student really stuck in his craw, as did the forced enthusiasm she relied on to try to get kids excited about things like spelling worksheets and coloring maps.

Still, it was not even close to an excuse for such breathtaking rudeness. I launched into an apology for my son’s behavior. “No, no, no, Ms. Johnson,” the teacher stopped me. “He wasn’t saying I was fat to be mean! He’s hyper-literal. He honestly doesn’t get the context or the joke.”

Hyper-literal. As in, autistic. At home, my son was affable and sunny, given to cracking all sorts of jokes. Why was he losing that sense of good-natured fun at school?

That is the question I should have been asking myself. Instead, after the school’s Child Study Team approached me, I was asking myself whether we’d been “in denial” about our son. The Team, consisting of the school psychologist and various paraprofessionals, told me they had concerns about my son’s ability to form friendships, his habit of living in his thoughts, and his tolerance for frustration. They weren’t saying that he was autistic, but they wanted to conduct an observation and evaluation just to make sure.

While my husband was skeptical, I admit I freaked. Various professionals had been mentioning autism to us for years now, and I decided it was time we took them seriously. The Child Study Team was right: our son had few friends and a hard time bonding with the boys in his class, especially since he wasn’t one for sports — just Legos and Pokemon. He was argumentative at times, socially awkward at others. Maybe there was something wrong.

At my insistence, we had our son evaluated by two child psychiatrists. The first saw no autism — just a smart, unathletic kid who was also quite shy. The second initially ruled against autism. However, after an email exchange with my son’s teacher, he admitted he couldn’t “rule it out.”

My husband and I decided to meet with the Child Study Team to share the two psychiatric reports. We also decided that we needed to be open with the Team about our own – ahem – quirks. Specifically, these were my husband’s OCD and my own anxiety, both of which we addressed through medication (we really should have stock in Pfizer by this point). We thought this might give the Team some needed insight on our son’s cerebral nature and awkwardness.

A word of advice to parents attending a Child Study Team meeting: Don’t begin things by jokingly announcing, “First off, we’re both craaaaaazy!” It won’t be the ice-breaker you hoped, eliciting relaxed laughter. Instead, it will induce lots of frowning and frantic note-scribbling. This frowning and note-scribbling will only increase when you offer one of your son’s intricate doodles as an example of something he likes to do at home “for fun”:

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What can I say? My son went through a phase where he liked to doodle maps. When the Team saw that picture their faces lit up like the Nazis’ did in Raiders, just after they opened the Ark and right before they melted. They again suggested he was mildly, a touch, autistic. They again proposed an evaluation, including having a staff member “shadow” my son with a video camera, recording his social interactions (or lack thereof). If he qualified as autistic, he would also qualify for an individualized education plan and other support, including “social therapy”.

After the meeting, at home, I found myself once again in fear, confusion and tears. I knew my son better than anyone and the boy I knew was whip-smart, funny, loving and introverted. He couldn’t throw a ball to save his life — but who cared? Yet the school was seeing another kid entirely: A withdrawn, socially-clueless, walking bundle of “issues”. What to do?

“Okay”, my husband reasoned, “let’s assume they’re right, that he’s mildly autistic.” He paused. “So what?”

So what? I had never considered it from this angle. So what if our son was a smidge, autistic? We knew there was no cure for autism. We knew the school was proposing social therapy of questionable efficacy at best. We knew our son was a top student and not a discipline problem. We knew, despite any “interventions”, our son was going to be exactly the person God made him, and we loved that person. Our only real concern was his lack of friends — but how can you foist friendship upon a shy kid with brainier interests? You can’t. (Note to you athletic types: It does seem easier to form social bonds in the dude-dom when you’re good at sports.)

So we waited it out. We told the school we’d pass on an autism evaluation.

I’ll be honest with you: Elementary school was a rough ride. Our son continued to resent the worksheets and the rules. He still had few friends.

And then, a miracle happened: junior high. For a lot of kids, it’s hell. But for our son, it marked the point when he began to blossom. Academically, there were less worksheets and rote work. A lot of his teachers not only allowed, but welcomed discussion (suddenly, he was no longer “argumentative”, but “thoughtful”). He started enjoying his classes. And socially, the transition to a bigger pond with more potential friends was just what he needed. He found his tribe.

They remain his friends to this day. It will come as no surprise to you that not one of his friends is an athlete. Instead, they’re on the debate team and in robotics club. They like to play Risk and Magic the card game. They follow politics and like tossing around obscure movie quotes and references. You know the type. Would I call any of them socially smooth or sophisticated? No. But I wouldn’t call them autistic, either — and that includes my son. He’s empathetic and funny and engaging. He’s just taken longer than most to grow comfortable in his own skin.

So to wrap it up, a few pearls of wisdom for you to take or leave:

None of the foregoing is meant to dissuade anyone from obtaining an autism evaluation for their child if they believe it’s necessary.  Autism absolutely exists and a skilled evaluation can not only identify it but pinpoint ways to help.

That being said, if anyone is going to tell you your kid is autistic, that person should have the initials “M.D.” after their name. Please don’t think I’m being dismissive of the teachers who expressed their concerns to us. I’m impressed and appreciative that, while dealing with twenty-something other children, they noticed my son’s struggles and wanted to help. Still, a special ed degree does not an autism expert make. Go to a doctor, preferably a pediatric neurologist or psychiatrist who specializes in autism.

Shyness can sometimes be confused with autism. For example, autistic kids often have trouble making direct eye contact and come across as socially stiff. Well, unfortunately, so do shy kids

Autism and early intervention is a business. Thomas Sowell made this point in his book, and it’s an important one:

Professionals working for the public school system have built-in incentives to label children and put them into special programs, which often get the school system more money from the government. Moreover, these programs need a steady supply of warm bodies, in order to keep going, whether or not they help or hurt the particular child.

Again, I don’t discount or disparage teachers and the important work they do. But I do think the phenomenon Sowell’s describing partially explains why the elementary school seemed so intent on labeling my son autistic.

Finally, if you fear the costs of “doing nothing”, consider the costs of labeling your kid with a serious neurological condition that he just doesn’t have. Read “I Had Asperger Syndrome. Briefly.”, in which the author recounts how his mother — an “expert” in Asperger’s! — not only diagnosed him with the disorder but had him participate in an educational video about it.

It took him years to forgive his mother. And, as he writes:

You can be highly perceptive with regard to social interaction, as a child or adolescent, and still be a spectacular social failure. . . Under the rules in place today, any nerd, any withdrawn, bookish kid, can have Asperger syndrome.

Anyone out there know Thomas Sowell? If so, thank him for me. Tell him he’s prevented at least one nervous breakdown in New Jersey.

Members have made 45 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of MarciN Member

    This is a great description of what happens between parents and professionals.

    A good story very well told. Bravo.

    • #1
    • October 5, 2016 at 10:24 am
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  2. Profile photo of Old Bathos Member

    We had some years of mostly unproductive inputs from professionals regarding one son with behavioral problems he largely outgrew. Most of the explanations and treatments were garbage. However, I think there is a ‘Stone Soup” factor that if good people believe in a course of curative actions and that belief allows them to take positive actions and interactions, the result of those actions is the real (and only) benefit but the “technology” allegedly applied gets the credit.

    Years ago, my wife used to volunteer with a group of friends to go over to a neighbor’s house to work with a developmentally challenged kid. They would each hold a limb and make the kid do crawling motions, for example. There was a theory about retracing missed childhood steps to retrain the brain or something. The only scientific literature I could find said the theory and protocols were a complete load of crap.

    She said that the boy was improving. I said maybe it is the intense, loving attention of a roomful of women who care about him rather than some bogus medical theory. And speaking of loving attention from a woman, what’s for dinner…? (Turns out it was self-serve leftovers that night–go figure.)

    • #2
    • October 5, 2016 at 10:35 am
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  3. Profile photo of Stina Inactive

    Thank you for bringing this book to my attention. My youngest is turning out to be a bit late meeting milestones. He’s 16m, won’t walk on his own and only says “Ma ma” and “ca ca” (cat). He grunts, screams, “eh”s and “ah”s.

    I have been worried a bit. But he shows good social skills, so I’m not too worried.

    • #3
    • October 5, 2016 at 10:38 am
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  4. Profile photo of EJHill Contributor

    My oldest, Miss Teacher, was speech delayed. At age three she spoke “Mama,” “Dadda,” “No!” and “mine.” I heard those last two words so often I told my wife that the first time she brought a boy home all she (and he) was going to hear was, “Noooooooo. Mine!”

    She was diagnosed with Verbal Dyspraxia. Which is fancy medical talk for delayed speech. We took her for speech therapy, but in the long run doctors don’t even know if that works. For most kids the connection in the brain finally occurs, the light goes on and everything is fine and dandy.

    The one thing the doctors and speech therapists could do is assure us that our daughter was bright. At two she had processed the vocabulary she heard like that of a five-year old. Which really only reinforces the old idea that you can really learn if you just shut up and listen.

    She graduated in May Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Early Childhood Education and now teaches Kindergarten in the wilds of North Carolina. And most of the time I can’t get her to shut up.

    • #4
    • October 5, 2016 at 11:03 am
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  5. Profile photo of LC Member
    LC

    Thank you for writing this article. My cousin in Cambodia didn’t talk until he was five. He’s now eight and he still doesn’t talk much, but he understands those around him. According to his doctor, he’s fine and healthy. Since this is Cambodia, there are no such things as special children programs readily available, just his parents. By the way, we are a family of engineers.

    • #5
    • October 5, 2016 at 11:27 am
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  6. Profile photo of JL Inactive
    JL

    This is easily the most important post I’ve read on this site. Child development “experts” are often a casualty of their work environments–they are indoctrinated to diagnose and limit. Psychology is littered with catchall diagnoses and fad-ailments. I am glad you have the wherewithal to question their substantive deficiencies–which in all fairness is a product of their well-meaning intentions. But the way to hell is paved with good intentions.

    When the complex diagnosis has become the means of a simple dismissal–we must be vigilante, caring, and above all: unorthodox in our care and thinking. The brain’s development, especially at younger ages, isn’t the clockwork typical Therapists believe it to be. And while I believe Neuropsychologists need to step up more to deliver this point, they can’t as their hands are tied by malpractice suits and institutional thought.

    You are an excellent parent and your children are blessed to have you.

    • #6
    • October 5, 2016 at 12:54 pm
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  7. Profile photo of Sabrdance Member

    I do not remember this (obvs) but I am informed that I did not speak until I was 3. At which point I began speaking in complete, grammatically correct(ish) sentences. The doctor’s assessment was that “well, apparently he didn’t have anything to say before.”

    The same thing appears to have happened in math (which happened late enough that I should remember it -5 or 6 -but I don’t). In which I couldn’t do it, until one day I was suddenly able to do it more-or-less perfectly.

    I am now a professor who teaches public admin students statistics.

    Also, I didn’t hit my social stride until high school, when I was able to bond over music, drama, and videogames -and really didn’t find friends until college, when I met people I could discuss philosophy or culture or history with.

    Some people, as Dr. Sowell says, just develop differently.

    • #7
    • October 5, 2016 at 1:04 pm
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  8. Profile photo of Dean Murphy Member

    I wasn’t a late talker, but I had many of the “problems” you outlined in your story.

    My biological father (absent) was an Electrical Engineer, I’m a Software Engineer, and my kids both declined to inherit my painful shyness gene.

    Thanks for the story.

    • #8
    • October 5, 2016 at 1:14 pm
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  9. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor

    Paula, thank you so much for your heartfelt and practical post!! I’m sure a lot of people will benefit from it.

    • #9
    • October 5, 2016 at 1:23 pm
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  10. Profile photo of Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Sabrdance: The same thing appears to have happened in math (which happened late enough that I should remember it -5 or 6 -but I don’t). In which I couldn’t do it, until one day I was suddenly able to do it more-or-less perfectly.

    Yeah. For me, that had to wait until Calculus to happen – or rather, Calculus was difficult enough for everyone else that all the sudden my random error rate started mattering a whole lot less.

    I was one of those gifted/SPED kids, considered bright but developmentally disordered in some way, and with really erratic standardized test scores (some “moron”, some “genius”). My family appreciates well-mannered, emotionally reserved, and quiet children, and the easiest way to be that was often just to shut myself up in my own little bubble. I remember being very proud of my ability to do as told and neither complain nor fidget, even when I was quite uncomfortable. The downside of that was getting so absorbed in not doing what I shouldn’t that focusing on doing what I should just wasn’t gonna happen – oh, and occasionally not reporting asthma attacks in time, thus disrupting everyone with ER visits that probably could have been avoided if I had only… complained or fidgeted. “Hyper-literal” indeed!

    Another relative of mine, older, was considered just plain retarded until they realized he had a serious asthma problem (he was even less of a complainer than I was as a child, so it took a long time indeed for folks to realize exactly how hard he had to work to breathe). Very bright student by the time he finished high school – nobody ever imagined he’d “catch up” (then surge ahead) that rapidly.

    • #10
    • October 5, 2016 at 1:44 pm
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  11. Profile photo of Paula Lynn Johnson Member
    Paula Lynn Johnson Post author

    Old Bathos: maybe it is the intense, loving attention of a roomful of women who care about him rather than some bogus medical theory.

    That’s a really good point. In fact, just before Thomas Sowell’s son started talking, he writes about how a colleague advised him to just love his son and give him a lot of attention. He redirected his efforts and did just that. Connection? I don’t know, I just know early childhood is a mysterious time of life and we still have a tremendous amount to learn about the brain.

    • #11
    • October 5, 2016 at 3:17 pm
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  12. Profile photo of Paula Lynn Johnson Member
    Paula Lynn Johnson Post author

    CM: My youngest is turning out to be a bit late meeting milestones. He’s 16m, won’t walk on his own and only says “Ma ma” and “ca ca” (cat). He grunts, screams, “eh”s and “ah”s.

    I know exactly what that feels like! My son didn’t walk until 18 months and at that point his only word was “Gawah” for Sarah, his sister. He still calls her Gawah as a joke.

    A good resource for you might also be Stephen Camarata. He partnered up with Thomas Sowell for another book on late-talkers, I believe, and has since done a lot of research on it. I haven’t read his latest by I’m told it’s quite good.

    • #12
    • October 5, 2016 at 3:24 pm
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  13. Profile photo of Paula Lynn Johnson Member
    Paula Lynn Johnson Post author

    EJHill: She graduated in May Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Early Childhood Education and now teaches Kindergarten in the wilds of North Carolina. And most of the time I can’t get her to shut up.

    That is so fantastic. Bright like her Daddy. We joke about how the first three years it was nothing but, “Please God, let them talk” and then for the rest of our lives it’s “Please God, let them stop talking.”

    • #13
    • October 5, 2016 at 3:26 pm
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  14. Profile photo of Bryan G. Stephens Reagan

    Susan Quinn:Paula, thank you so much for your heartfelt and practical post!! I’m sure a lot of people will benefit from it.

    Ditto.

    Our son had a delayed speech, and is fine now. Tests are not the full picture, and the non engaged child might just not care about the damn tests.

    • #14
    • October 5, 2016 at 3:28 pm
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  15. Profile photo of Kim K. Member

    I loved this post. I haven’t been exactly in your shoes, but there are several similarities. I wish I could go back 25 years and do lots of things over again with my kids.

    There is a lot of talk about “the spectrum” and so many kids being somewhere on it. Or the weird labels – like one of my kids’ IEPs stating “Specific Learning Disability” which is definitely not specific and just means they don’t know what else to call it. I’ve come to realize that there is a wide spectrum of normal. Professionals would have us believe normal is a very thin sliver.

    Congratulations on navigating the system for your kids!

    • #15
    • October 5, 2016 at 3:31 pm
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  16. Profile photo of Paula Lynn Johnson Member
    Paula Lynn Johnson Post author

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: I was one of those gifted/SPED kids, considered bright but developmentally disordered in some way, and with really erratic standardized test scores (some “moron”, some “genius”).

    You are in very good company. We live in the greater Princeton area and the tour guides will tell you that Einstein routinely got lost every time he set foot out of his house. The Institute for Advanced Study thought he was a genius . . . the cops that had to guide him home, not so much.

    • #16
    • October 5, 2016 at 3:32 pm
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  17. Profile photo of Z in MT Member

    My sister had speech therapy when she was young and she grew up to be a lawyer. Her son also has speech difficulty, but he is getting better. Neither one would call autistic, they are both outgoing people.

    • #17
    • October 5, 2016 at 3:42 pm
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  18. Profile photo of Paula Lynn Johnson Member
    Paula Lynn Johnson Post author

    JLocked: they can’t as their hands are tied by malpractice suits and institutional thought.

    That is absolutely part of the problem, and at the school level too. Way back when, I practiced school law and I assisted a partner in defending a lot, a lot of lawsuits against school districts for failing to provide special ed services to kids. In some, the districts probably dropped the ball. In many more, parents were trying to force an outside diagnosis upon the school by rounding up their own expert and threatening a lawsuit if the school didn’t provide a paraprofessional, special therapy, what-have-you.

    That kind of environment only encourages schools to push autism, ADHD, and other labels as proactive damage control.

    Then you have the problem of bullying and school shooters. More often than not, the shooter is described as a “loner”. Schools have understandably zeroed in on the quiet kids with few friends because they’re worried about social integration. The problem is the urge to medicalize and label what might just be good ol’ fashioned introversion.

    • #18
    • October 5, 2016 at 3:46 pm
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  19. Profile photo of Phil Turmel Thatcher

    Sabrdance:I do not remember this (obvs) but I am informed that I did not speak until I was 3. At which point I began speaking in complete, grammatically correct(ish) sentences. The doctor’s assessment was that “well, apparently he didn’t have anything to say before.”

    The same thing appears to have happened in math (which happened late enough that I should remember it -5 or 6 -but I don’t). In which I couldn’t do it, until one day I was suddenly able to do it more-or-less perfectly.

    I am now a professor who teaches public admin students statistics.

    Also, I didn’t hit my social stride until high school, when I was able to bond over music, drama, and videogames -and really didn’t find friends until college, when I met people I could discuss philosophy or culture or history with.

    Some people, as Dr. Sowell says, just develop differently.

    Wow, you might be my long-lost twin! My parents insist I went from grunts to complete sentences around my 3rd birthday, went from indifference to math to a math whiz in 4th grade, and remained socially awkward through high school. My father was an electrical engineer, I’m an electrical engineer (and computer geek), and my son is an electrical engineer. I still love Legos. (-:

    • #19
    • October 5, 2016 at 3:58 pm
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  20. Profile photo of Fritz Member

    One other thing to toss into the mix: while many kids need these services, I suspect many who do not get tossed in anyway, because with a diagnosis of any sort of “special needs” comes dollars to the school district for special education.

    A district in a fairly affluent area near me had a rate approaching 40% of their school kids who were “found’ to be “special needs”. Cynic that I am, I also noticed the lovely Mercedes sedan driven by the Asst Superintendant for Special Education.

    • #20
    • October 5, 2016 at 4:08 pm
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  21. Profile photo of Matthew Torres Inactive

    Wow, it was tough reading this. It brought back the memories of a frustrating time for both my wife and me.

    We had friends with children the exact same age as our son. When they were all reaching their second birthday, all were speaking, some in complete sentences. Our son, unfortunately wasn’t.

    What he lacked in speech, he made up for in spelling and math. At three he could spell words like ladder, house etc. Yet he couldn’t say them.

    We decided to have him tested, and our worst fears were confirmed, he was Autistic.

    By age three, he was doing basic math drills. Age four, he was reading 1st grade level books, but not out loud.

    He then hit Kindergarten. Still not speaking, he was able to function well within the class. The hardest part during this time was due to his inability to talk, he didn’t make friends.

    By first grade, he was reading at a fourth grade level, but still no speech other than mushmouth sounds.

    Now he is in Second grade and is starting coding within Minecraft. Recently he even won a Minecraft tournament with a 14 year old being the closest in age. And yet he still doesn’t speak, still wears pads in his undies.

    I have never had a two way conversation with my son, and it kills me.

    • #21
    • October 5, 2016 at 4:25 pm
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  22. Profile photo of Brian Wyneken Member

    Scene: Autism Evaluation for our (then) three year old; Players: My wife and I and about a half-dozen specialists around a table.

    Child Psychologist (begins reading his report): “__________ is a delightful child of slightly below average intelligence . . . . . ”

    Wife (interrupting): “Whaddya mean below average intelligence! He can read!”

    Child Psychologist (feeling defensive): “Well . . . for instance I showed him picture of a dog and he didn’t know what it was”

    Wife (very annoyed): “WE HAVE A DOG! HE KNOWS WHAT A DOG IS!”

    Me (trying to be helpful by channeling my inner Judge Smails): “Well Honey, the world needs ditch diggers too”

    Nobody laughed . . . and it went downhill from there. It was funny in the movie though.

    • #22
    • October 5, 2016 at 4:28 pm
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  23. Profile photo of Isaiah's Job Member

    I have a seven-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. However, my experiences have been very different from Paula’s, in that Early Intervention was a very positive thing for Cassidy (my daughter), and we have a good relationship with our school district, including it’s various therapists and special needs experts.

    Why do you ask?

    Because of this additional, highly recommended pearl of wisdom for parents of all kinds:

    Admit nothing and keep those bastards frightened of you What the school district knows about my family is that we’re educated, we have lawyers, I used to write editorials for newspapers, we know what we want for our child, and that we’re confrontational. This encourages them to give us what we want, and discourages them from talking down to us. When they try, they learn quickly that it’s a very bad idea.

    • #23
    • October 5, 2016 at 4:30 pm
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  24. Profile photo of Craig Inactive

    If only this was read by my mother when I was in the midst of not speaking until I was 4.

    • #24
    • October 5, 2016 at 4:33 pm
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  25. Profile photo of Chuck Enfield Thatcher

    Paula Lynn Johnson: our son had few friends and a hard time bonding with the boys in his class, especially since he wasn’t one for sports — just Legos and Pokemon. He was argumentative at times, socially awkward at others. Maybe there was something wrong.

    You just described me at 47. We have a term for people like this at work. We call them engineers.

    • #25
    • October 5, 2016 at 5:03 pm
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  26. Profile photo of Paula Lynn Johnson Member
    Paula Lynn Johnson Post author

    Matthew Torres: Now he is in Second grade and is starting coding within Minecraft.

    Your son’s mind is incredible. I can only imagine what it’s like to walk in your shoes but he is certainly lucky to have you as parents.

    The over diagnosis is troubling on so many levels, not least of which it diverts resources away from the kids who need them and for whom they were intended. I know parents of kids with autism and cerebral palsy — they need support from the school. But I also know of someone who searched around for a psychologist to label her kid as autistic so that she could strong-arm the school into providing an academic aide. This kid had lots of friends, never failed to be sociable with me, and had an uncanny knack for mimicking celebrities, teachers, you name it. Wicked sense of humor. When I gently suggested to his mom that he didn’t seem in the least autistic, she replied that he was “extremely high functioning.”

    • #26
    • October 5, 2016 at 5:26 pm
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  27. Profile photo of NCforSCFC Member

    Wonderfully written, evoking memories of what we went through with our son. Late walker, late talker. Autism never came up but our pediatrician recommended we use the speech therapist in the same building. She was a wonderful person and helped him use some simple sign language to better communicate. And somewhere along the way (it’s all a blur now), he began to speak. He’s still fairly quiet and shy, small group of friends. But he’s a great kid, junior in college and working part time.

    Paula Lynn Johnson: Over 60% of Sowell’s survey group of parents with late-talking children had an engineer as a close relative

    That’s a fascinating statistic. Both my wife and I are Chemical Engineers. Or really, were Chemical Engineers as we’ve both moved into other fields over time.

    • #27
    • October 5, 2016 at 5:42 pm
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  28. Profile photo of Matthew Torres Inactive

    Paula Lynn Johnson:

    Matthew Torres: Now he is in Second grade and is starting coding within Minecraft.

    Your son’s mind is incredible. I can only imagine what it’s like to walk in your shoes but he is certainly lucky to have you as parents.

    He does have a fascinating mind. He uses a large white board for jotting down ideas and requests. Sometimes it is as simple as “I’m hungry” or something that has to do with designing Rube Goldberg machines.

    We do find ourselves fortunate that he enjoys life. He loves to give hugs and loves to “fart” in your direction. His laugh is infectious, and his creativity is amazing. The roller coasters he designs in Minecraft are straight out of a Tim Burton movie.

    My guess is that I am too on the spectrum. I stim when I play video games and I constantly have to move my legs when sitting. I was very socially awkward in middle and high school. I have always struggled with communication, written and verbal. Everyone just labeled it as being a late bloomer.

    I guess that is why I am in IT.

    • #28
    • October 5, 2016 at 6:20 pm
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  29. Profile photo of OkieSailor Member

    Kim K.:I loved this post. I haven’t been exactly in your shoes, but there are several similarities. I wish I could go back 25 years and do lots of things over again with my kids.

    There is a lot of talk about “the spectrum” and so many kids being somewhere on it. Or the weird labels – like one of my kids’ IEPs stating “Specific Learning Disability” which is definitely not specific and just means they don’t know what else to call it. I’ve come to realize that there is a wide spectrum of normal. Professionals would have us believe normal is a very thin sliver.

    Congratulations on navigating the system for your kids!

    I believe, but can’t prove, there is no such thing as normal, there is only ‘average’. And few, if any, of us are really average. We are all unique individuals mostly mildly rebelling against being ‘force fitted’ into an average mold. I do think that is the source of most but not all of the classroom problems kids exhibit.

    • #29
    • October 6, 2016 at 2:37 am
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  30. Profile photo of I Walton Member

    They tell the story of my father who hadn’t uttered a word well after age 3, then one day looking out the window said. “Here comes that awful Mrs. xxx”

    • #30
    • October 6, 2016 at 3:31 am
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