There’s an episode of Scrubs in which Dr Cox’s infant son has a playdate with a rival’s child. After seeing the other boy’s precision with building blocks, Dr Cox states that kids of that age shouldn’t be able to do that, leading him to suspect the boy has autism. And of course, since Dr Cox is like House, only with a larger ego, he’s absolutely right.
Far be it from me to take facts about autism from a TV show, particularly one that perpetuates the myth you can restart a stopped heart with a defibrillator (shocking revelation: you can’t!), but it’s lingered in the back of my mind for years. So when Izzie started playing with building blocks a few weeks ago, I watched her very carefully.
Actually, that’s not what happened. I was meant to watch her. Instead, as an autistic guy myself, every time she started to play with them I couldn’t resist the opportunity to shoulder her aside, organise the blocks by colour and shape and build towers all around the lounge. To my annoyance, Izzie kept knocking them over and mucking up my neat piles and throwing the bricks into her ball pit. I started to design stronger towers, pyramids, all kinds of defensive structures to protect my colour-coded edifices. Then, after about a fortnight of this, I realised I was getting obsessive over a baby’s building blocks and really ought to let Izzie play with them. Then I watched her.
Mostly she was destructive with them, smashing them together, bashing them against the furniture, throwing them at the wall, and stuffing them into her mouth. Just like a baby. Phew.
But then she started to play with them differently. Starting a couple of weeks back, she would empty them out of her trolley one at a time onto the carpet and then very carefully put them all back in again. After a few days of this, she decided that was too easy. From then on she’d wheel the trolley over to the coffee table, and one by one she’d put the blocks on top. Once she was done, she’d take them down and put them back in the trolley, walk over to her toy box and repeat the process. Stacking, unstacking, loading, unloading like a particularly conscientious warehouseman.
I consoled myself that she wasn’t able to make towers out of them yet. That would be the time to worry.
Two days ago she managed to stack two on top of each other. By yesterday, her towers were up to three blocks. Today, she managed five. And that’s when alarm bells started to ring.
I mean, they weren’t very good towers – they were wonky and multicoloured and would fall over if you walked too heavily across the carpet – but they were towers nonetheless. Were these the skills Dr Cox was talking about, those abilities with bricks a non-autistic child shouldn’t possess?
It says on the Baby Centre website that at 15 months she should be able to start putting one block on top of another, and by 18 months might be up to towers of three blocks.
Izzie is ten months old.
So without any further evidence, I started panicking that ohmygod she’s autistic.
After a few minutes of reassuring myself that it’s okay, she’s happy and if she has autism, that’s just the way things are, I’m autistic, Lizzie’s autistic, and we’re fine, everyone has problems, neurotypical, Aspie or otherwise, I decided it might be an idea to research early signs of autism.
And Izzie has NONE of them.
Now of course, not every child with autism is going to have all the signs, and even if a child has many of them, it doesn’t mean they’re autistic, but for anybody who’s curious, these early signs of autism are:
- Lack of eye contact (I never made eye contact as a child; I sometimes have to look away, the amount that Izzie stares at me!);
- Failing to imitate social cues, like smiling back at you (Izzie smiles so much, I’m sure her face must hurt);
- Not babbling to themselves or making noises to get your attention (Izzie is by far the noisiest person in my life);
- Failure to respond to their name (Izzie comes when called, and if I say, ‘Where’s mummy?’ she looks right at Lizzie);
- Not using gestures to point things out or respond to your gestures (Izzie’s favourite activity is pointing);
- Disinterest in physical contact like cuddling or being picked up (if you don’t pick Izzie up, she climbs up your legs!);
- Doesn’t want to play with others (Izzie is currently loving rolling balls to me and getting me to roll them back);
- Repetitive interests, movements or behaviours (Izzie does seem a little preoccupied with food…);
- Delayed motor development i.e. rolling, sitting, crawling, standing (Izzie rolls, sits, crawls, stands, swims, climbs and throws).
Conclusion: Izzie doesn’t have any of the classic signs of autism.
So why is she so advanced when it comes to building blocks if not autism? Who knows? Maybe she’s just really really freaking intelligent.