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What is Normal Autistic Behavior?

Gable Rhoads has an AD in radiography. She is passionate about her family, animals, gardening, and the odd and unusual.

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My son at 7

There are many times I have watched my son and marveled at how far he has come. He is not at the same emotional maturity level as his peers, and he may never be.

To have a better understanding of my puzzling child, I read blogs written by other parents with children on the autism spectrum. What may be normal for my child is not necessarily normal in others, but most of the time I can relate to what the other parent is going through.

Medical journals and websites dedicated to autism are helpful for the basic information describing autistic behavior, but for that “aha, that is MY child moment” read what other parents have been through. Hopefully, you may have that “aha” moment when reading about some of my son’s "normal autistic" behaviors.

Infant and toddler behavior

A speech delay was apparent

As an infant, my son was “different”, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Already having two older daughters, I initially chalked it up to the XY chromosome. I did wonder when he didn’t coo and babble, but he smiled a lot, so he was obviously happy. I wasn’t too worried when he wasn’t saying words by one. After all, he could mimic the air brakes of a semi and the back-up beep of a delivery truck perfectly. There was nothing wrong with his hearing. I noticed he loved spinning and staring at the wheels on a Match Box car.

At 18 months, I was seriously concerned that the only word he said was “moon”. No “momma”, “mommy,” or “mom.” He would point at what he wanted, and no amount of prompting or refusing to give it to him persuaded him to talk. At 2 1/2, he was seen by a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with ADHD and non-congenital speech delay. My son started receiving speech therapy soon after, and made progress.

Slowly but surely, he attempted to speak. It was only single words, and most of the time the words were not coherent to anyone but me, but he was trying! At 4, after speech therapy, he began putting three or more words together, inventing words if needed. Hot dog Popsicle was a corndog, and ice cream soup was a sundae. It was very logical to him. At 5, he was finally diagnosed with high-functioning autism by a different psychiatrist. It was a relief to realize that he wasn’t mentally slow, but had a neurological condition.

Fixating on objects

He seemed to obsess about certain items such as knickknacks, so much so that when I moved them to a location he couldn’t reach, he would throw a toy at them to try to knock them down. He had amazing aim for one so little.

Potty training and sensory disorders

My son was slow to potty train. He showed zero interest in being a “big boy”. He did not care if he was wet or soiled. Finally at four he no longer soiled himself, but he continued to wet his pants until age seven.

The disregard to soiled clothes was odd for a child who would have a meltdown if his socks were ‘”crumbly” – that is the socks were not pulled tightly up around his ankles. He wouldn’t wear certain pants because he said "they bite”. This makes him angry, and he will start hitting the pants (while he’s wearing them), and won’t be happy until they are removed. Turtlenecks are out; they choke him.

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Autism "normal"


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Wakefulness

When he was younger, my son was prone to awakening in the middle of the night. There would be half-eaten food under his bed and chocolate syrup smeared on the sheets. This caused me much anxiety – not just over the food, but also over the fact he may have decided to go wandering outside at night. Luckily, he never mastered the deadbolts on the doors. He did, though, figure out how to unlatch the refrigerator lock that was installed to prevent his food forays.


I was awakened one night to him giggling wildly. He had caught several fish out of a 75-gallon tank with his bare hands, and was in the process of feeding them to our dog! Have you ever seen a child smile and giggle when you are enraged? Inappropriate reactions to other’s emotions are also a symptom of autism. Seeing the fear in his eyes as he tried to suppress his smile with his hand was like a dash of could water over me. It is still shames me to think about it.

Obsessions

At seven, my son was still obsessed with his cars, planes, and trains. He does have a new interest – art. He is incredibly detailed in his drawings, and it is useful when eating out in restaurants. Another new obsession that drove me crazy is cars parked along side a highway, or cars left unoccupied with their lights on. He gets angry and wants to know why, why, why.


Oh the anxiety when you the number for your child's school shows up on the caller ID.

School

Starting school was hard for my son. My son failed kindergarten in a mainstream classroom in North Carolina. The only services offered there were speech classes. My son had frequent meltdowns and the school's solution was to call me to pick him up. Education seems not to be a priority in NC.

In Indiana things were much better The services offered there for special needs children are incredible. He attended a class with other autistic children and was taught in small groups with visual and tactile aids.

We moved to my hometown in North Dakota the following year. While there are no classes just for autistic children, the small class sizes and the services of a paraprofessional have allowed my son to be at grade level in reading and almost there in math.


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