“Go AWAY!” The little girl yelled at Declan.
“I AM PLAYING WITH YOU!” Declan retorted.
The girl ran away, fed up with Declan. Enamored by her, Declan had spent the last 5 minutes randomly smiling at her inches from her face, hugging her, throwing sticks at her and giving her mild pinches.
She had had enough.
“Come on Declan, come play with me!” I yelled to him from the side of the slide.
“I AM PLAYING WITH HER!” Declan yelled back.
Declan caught up with the girl and she gave him a quick jab in the side. Declan became ecstatic. I am sure he felt, “This new jab game should be fun!”
“Declan, no! No hit!” I called as I dashed to catch up to him.
And as I moved around the play gym to get closer, Declan jabbed her and she fell to the ground. Declan, feeling he had won the jab game, jumped for joy until I could properly intervene.
“Declan was able to participate in some cooperative play with his peers, he was able to make eye contact with the evaluator…….”
The assessor kept talking, but my mind stopped.
“Just keep it together, keep it together – let it go, let it go…..it doesn’t apply here…” I repeated to myself.
And to consciously keep myself on track, I bit my lip and continued listening to the assessment results.
There are times I have encountered non-autism professionals in discussion and hear a comment about how they do not feel a child in question REALLY has autism.
Topics they use to defend their beliefs:
- The child’s speech is too good
- The child does not flap their hands
- The child does not walk on their toes
- The child can make eye contact
Hearing these statements from people really upsets me having heard a non-autism professional say to me, “Declan doesn’t have autism. He can make eye contact!”
For me, I had always wondered if these professionals thought that I had diagnosed Declan by myself. Did they not realize that a Developmental Pediatrician diagnosed him? And then reconfirmed the diagnosis 3 years later?
I realize that it comes down to education. These “hallmarks” that non-autism professionals, like regular education teachers, look for – speech, toe walking, hand flapping and eye contact – are NOT how autism is diagnosed and are NOT good indicators of autism for all individuals.
When you look at part of the diagnostic criteria for autism, how big is the reference to eye contact?
Criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive, see text):
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
- Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
- Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.
Eye contact is not the major part of the autism diagnosis. It is an EXAMPLE of a nonverbal communicative behavior.
When you watch Declan interact with his peers, he has a lot of other deficits in his understanding of social interaction. Like what I witnessed that day at the playground. He got too close, touched too much, didn’t understand the explicit, “I do not want to play with you!”
But he was looking at her.
The best way I have heard autism explained is in this one sentence.
“Autism is unique.”
How autism affects one individual may not be the same way autism affects another individual.
And the emphasis on eye contact needs to be lessened.
In conclusion, there are a lot of faces of autism. All beautiful. And all capable of different things.