A couple of weeks ago, Some Boy started doing this weird head shaking thing. Whenever he'd get excited, he would shake his head back and forth almost uncontrollably in a “No” motion. Of course, I immediately Googled “baby shaking head” to see why on earth he might be doing this. Apparently, behaviors such as shaking the head or hands can be some of the earliest signs of autism.
A word to the wise: Google + Medical issues = A spiraling deathtrap of despair. Don't get me wrong. There are a ton of valid and helpful resources online, but there are also a lot of angry trolls on forums trying to get a rise out of people. For some reason, it's always our first instinct to lend credibility to the naysayers.
An Expert Opinion
My pediatrician said that this is normal developmental behavior, but I wanted an specialist's opinion. I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Roberto Tuchman on 2nd.md, an online source for direct access to medical experts. We set a time to meet online and got to chatting right away.
Dr. Tuchman is an expert in autism and neurodevelopment disorders. He serves on multiple national organizations like the Scientific Advisory Committee of Autism Speaks and the International League of Epilepsy. Most importantly, however, he was warm and caring and helped put my mind at ease. He offered helpful suggestions for a (slightly high-strung and paranoid) new parent like myself. I'm SO glad to have found this resource.
Earliest Signs of Autism: What to Look For
Dr. Tuchman told me that while head-shaking can be one of the earliest signs of autism, it can also be a harmless response to sensory stimuli. “There is no one behavior used to ‘diagnose' autism spectrum disorders,” he explained, and told me that there are three indicators to be on the lookout for that are some of the earliest signs of autism: not responding to name, not pointing, and not sharing excitement (such as holding toys up for parents to see).
What To Do
If parents do see warning signs, they should try to change the child's behavior. For example, if your baby doesn't respond when you call her name, gently turn her head toward you with your hands. Make them respond as they should, and they very well may pick up on what you want. If your child is diagnosed with autism, there are many ways to help them. Early intervention makes a significant difference, and some children actually get all the way better.
While Some Boy seems absolutely fine, I'm extremely happy that I spoke with Dr. Tuchman. I understand that kids just do strange things sometimes, particularly in their first year of life. If your child does have any of the three earliest signs of autism (not responding to name, not pointing, and not sharing the excitement of an event with others), seek help from an expert. Remember: these is no one behavior that is “diagnostic” of autism spectrum disorders. It never hurts to ask and it will likely put your mind at ease. It certainly did for me.
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