The subtle signs of high functioning Autism…can you spot them?

One my way home from work the other day as I sat in traffic stewing (people of Toronto, you KNOW what I’m talking about if you even sit on the DVP wondering why you even bothered trying to DRIVE on it!) I remembered a cute but funny little picture we had taken a few years back when Lincoln wasΒ  3 and a half.

Here it is: At the time, we had NO idea that anything might be wrong.

During this photo shoot at the local Superstore Lincoln started out agreeable but quickly morphed into this. An anxious, worried, upset, melting down little kid.

This was a little out of the norm (at the time, later, it became common) for Linc and we chalked it up to “hey! we have a new baby, things are a little different at home, no one likes thier picture taken…deep down “I” even feel like this! and did not think anything of it.

As most parents on the spectrum know, anxiety and over reaction to a situation is EXTREMELY common traits in AUTISM. It is also a common trait for a 3 year old…so parents. If you are like us, and you didn’t see the early signs. You are human. You are not a bad parent. It is tough to see sometimes. HFA sometimes is like a connect the dots – until ALL the dots are met you typically cannot see the whole picture.

Lincoln started to play with all toys at ‘eye’ level. He would stand at this bookshelf and not line up toys (as in the autistic fashion’ but look at them at eye level from his unique perspective.

Lincoln began to play in a particular style when he was quite young. He typically liked to play standing up with his toys at ‘eye level’ He NEVER lined up toys, and he didn’t have a repetitive way of playing but there was an order, and continues to be. If you read the Autism symptoms and check list you might wonder, but he certainly didn’t follow the playing to the tee which made it harder to spot any issues.

** INTERESTING NOTE*** I wrote in my last blog about Thomas the Tank and if you have a good eye, you will notice there is a Thomas table in the background to the right in this photo. At this age, about 3 Lincoln had NO interest at all in Thomas. His Uncle bought him this table to sit and play at (which her still never has) and for the most part only his other brothers have really put this to good use!

Here is Lincoln at 2 1/5.

Grayon 1 yr Linc 2.5 opening a juice for his little brother

There was no ‘hit you in the face’ signs. He had good fine motor skills, could open this juice box himself in a flash! He ran and climbed, eye contact, talked with a good vocabulary, just not a lot. We chalked that up to, his brother did not talk and he therefore had little else to say.

same age 2.5 playing pony beauty parlor. Notice the pony is again at ‘eye level’

When you are a parent of an autistic child you have this very deep conversation with yourself at a point where you ask yourself if you missed a sign.

This discussion is a catalyst for self-punishment.

You can go over it again and again, maybe the signs were there, maybe they were not so obvious. The fact is, you had no reason to suspect there was an issue. Don’t beat yourself up over not realizing right off the bat that your child might needΒ  some extra help. Parenting, my friend says, does not come with a manual. You learn as you go along, a good parent is one that does not over react but can eventually conclude that there may be reason for a 2nd opinion.

Here is my son at almost 3 1/2

At 4 yrs –notice him touching my face (skin) this is something Linc still does at 7,l he likes to feel skin, it calms him.

At 4. We had to distract him with the ornament to get him to sit. I told the photographer to just keep shooting, not to stop and one picture would turn out! His patience was VERY limited at this point.

Here is Linc at 2…He is holding some Cars (from the movie Cars) Looking like an ever day kid…He does though begin to ALWAYS carry something in his hand. My other 3 boys did not ever behave this way. Interesting?

Christmas 2010 age 5 (almost 6)

Are the signs that noticeable?

Harder to sit and listen. This picture TOTALLY grasps life in a family of 4 boys, but it also starts to show signs of low attention span, frusteration and indifference to social norm and expectations. Then again, he might just be being a boy πŸ™‚

No, Yes, Maybe. You see how difficult it is in retrospect πŸ™‚

We all do the best we can. Autism is mysterious, it varies, and it is unexpected when you first hold your beautiful little baby.

Give yourself a break and pat yourself on the back for getting help when you did. You are A GREAT parent!

This is our family 18 months ago so LIncoln was almost 6.
Can you see Autism? I can’t. I just see a really great bunch of kids who are very, very, loved.
(BTW, if you don’t know, Linc is the little dude in the blue glasses!)


29 thoughts on “The subtle signs of high functioning Autism…can you spot them?

  1. We were pretty late to the diagnosis (special ed placement at 20 months, 4, and 5; diagnosis of autism at 5, 7, and 9). In retrospect there were signs; things we though we should have recognized; although I did have some uneasy feelings a few years before – when language didn’t come as soon as it should have; when unusual fascinations popped up; when milestones were not reached nearly as soon as their cousins.

    During the time that I was raising my kids and even now, I have found that I have a kind of radar for kids with autism. I know them when I see them, even in still pictures. I could always spot the kids with autism. Something about the eyes and face.

    By the way, I know what you mean about taking good pictures. After a while, I just expected my son’s school pictures to turn out poorly. Some of the pictures of him at play or when he was unaware of the picture turned out well.

    • I think knowing how Autism looks, and hearing or seeing signs is a nice thing….sometimes we can help others find a balance in their lives and get their children the help they deserve!

    • I get my son to take decent school pictures by using positive reinforcement. Otherwise known as bribery/blackmail. He gets a toy at the end of the week if he stays on green all week at school. If he doesn’t stay on green all week, he might not get that toy.
      I show him the pose he will be doing and tell him what is expected of him. I tell him that running away or yelling at people is not acceptable and that he might not get his toy that week if he doesn’t at least try.
      When it was time for his first school picture, he wouldn’t participate at all. The next time they did pictures that year, I used the positive reinforcement and got a good picture.
      This year’s picture involved more cooperation from him, but he has an extremely exaggerated smile on his face. Oh well… I’ll take what I can get. His class picture from last year looks like he’s trying to run away, just as the picture is snapped.

  2. As parents, we accept our children and love them just as they are. We had a couple of symptoms that, had we known more, and had we been more open to the possibility of Autism, we would have recognized right away.
    He paced, he lined up his toys, he had no “reality conversation.” He had no interest in peers outside of our home. He had obsessive interests. He hated playing with things like paints and glue.
    It wasn’t til the staff at his Pre-K noticed things and recognized them as a possible developmental disability that we had him checked out. At first, my heart was broken. I researched his diagnosis like a mad woman. I then accepted it, but had him tested a couple more times, just to be on the safe side.
    My next question was, “How can we help this wonderful child?” We have come far since his diagnosis in 2009, but we are still learning.

  3. Linc hates to colour! He loves paint and glue but you could pay him to colour! LOL Also, his conversations revolved around “his” needs. We slowly began to notice he never joined in regular conversations…

    • Cameron used to throw a fit when we wanted him to color, but it was usually a specific kind of crayons that he hated. When I finally got him to tell me what the problem was, it was that the one brand of crayons made a sort of screechy sound that didn’t bother us, but which drove him CRAZY! He is like that with dry erase markers on a dry erase board too. The squeaking really gets to him.
      Hey, if you want to, feel free to friend me on Facebook, if you’re on there. It is good to have a network of support.

      • We do the exact same thing the positive toy offering…but for just about everything. He has a star system and positive behavior awards him a star, so many stars equal the train, er toy he is desiring at that time! It is easy to take away one star then he also knows he can work extra hard and gain back the star instead of losing toy completely.

        We are lucky, both school pics he went first and they turned out lovely. I can’t tell the difference from him to a typical functioning child, though, often times he is STARRING OFF INTO SPACE, OR FIDGETING, RUNNING, CRAWLING, CRYING…lol I know it isn’t funny really, but if we don’t laugh sometimes, well, we lose perspective πŸ™‚

        You are a smart Woman! I actually attended an ABA session that mentioned they loved my star system (very similar to your positive reward system) and asked if they could use it..they liked how the kid could gain back the stars or understand why they cannot get reward.

        Best to you!


  4. I know what you mean about the pictures! I used to (and still do!) dread them! I knew I would end up in a sweat and totally frustrated after them, that was before I knew he was an Aspie! His vocabulary was huge at a very young age and he could hold a conversation with adults at 3! But, he played by himself and lined things up and was disruptive in school. I kept thinking something wasn’t right with him, I used to leave playdate’s in tears feeling like my kid was different! It wasn’t until 2nd grade when his teacher said “something isn’t right with your kid, you should have him tested” that I felt relieved. Like I wasn’t the only one who thought it was just me being a horrible mother! It’s nice to see a blog like this, were I can connect! Thank you!

    • Thanks Darci, this blog is all for parents like you or I!
      Living a diagnosis is ever changing and emotional…good and bad. It is nice to know you are not alone and we all go through it.

      πŸ™‚ Best to you,

    • I feel the same way with my kindergartener!!!! He is sooo challenging!! And finally someone other than me, sees there is a difference, his other primary caregiver, his teacher!! We are in que for testing/ evaluation!! Good to know I’m not alone!!

  5. Hi,My seven year old soon has Aspergers.My 4 year old until now had seemed neurotypical i am starting to see some autistic tendencies in my 4 year old that i didn’t notice before.Maybe because I’ve been so caught up in the world of Aspergers, trying to figure my 7 year old out.My husband thinks I’m making excuses for my 4 year olds “bad behavior” but it feels all to familiar. Can you tell me what was noticed with your son at first.

    • Hi!

      I think I noticed the anxiousness and unwillingness to play with others or have a sustaining conversation but with 3 other children I can say that 4 yr olds are pretty stubborn and strange sometimes and that is just being 4! πŸ™‚ Trust your instinct but also remember not to “look” for issues πŸ™‚ All children are lovely just the way they are.

      Good luck

  6. Hi there! I just started doing some researching because I’m suspicious of my almost 3-year old son, whom I’ve always thought of as “quirky.” He sounds a lot like your son! Things that ring especially true are the playing standing up with things at eye level (or he will also sometimes lay on the floor, but he always has to be eye level with his toy). He’s very fixated with cars and trains – especially the wheels and tires. He could watch a tire spin for hours. He will take anything circular and fashion it into a wheel and will “steer” himself everywhere. There’s a myriad of other “quirks,” but I don’t want to turn this into a novel. Anyway, I’m thankful I stumbled across this blog. I’m in the process of compiling a list of my son’s behaviors and plan to bring them to his doctor when we go for an appt this week.

    • It’s always good to discuss these things with your Dr.
      We went back and forth a few Drs visits with “what ifs” and I remember quite vividly my Dr saying “well, if he was an adult, would we think much about him liking to keep to himself and not saying a whole lot?”
      Probably not πŸ™‚
      You seem to be intune with your child and that is great news, for you will be able to help him along no matter what the diagnosis!
      Good luck to you and thank you most sincerely for reading!

    • I too made a list of all the possible Autistic symptoms that I saw in my son. I wanted to be prepared for the visit, to make certain that I didn’t forget anything when I was on the spot.
      One thing that I noticed about my son’s play was that he didn’t interact his toys. Kids usually have their toys “talking” to one another. His version of play was to line things up in perfect alignment for hours. He did it on my kitchen table, his dresser, and even from the kitchen to the bedroom door. If anything was moved, he flipped out!
      I was amazed, and dismayed, at all of the Autistic symptoms he was showing. I must make a side note, however, and say that we hadn’t linked these things to Autism immediately. We labeled him as “quirky,” and accepted him just as he was.
      Anyway, he was eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s Autism, basically high-functioning Autism. We have adjusted, and with help, he has come far.
      I want to offer you hope. If you want to check out more of our journey, you are invited to come over to my blog as well. We’re all in this together.

  7. My 20 month old son is receiving speech therapy right now as a result of an evaluation with a developmental pediatrician. She said he is a conundrum. He has some flags, but not others. When I read your blog it struck me that no one has commented, except you, that he prefers to play at eye level. In fact, we recently purchased a pod that he stands up in at the counter where he can interact with us and he is as happy as can be. Duh! It puts him at eye level. I have such mixed emotions about knowing this.

    He too almost always has something in his hand, whether it be a car, truck, or leaf. He will hold a leaf on an entire walk. He often exchanges one leaf for another, but he prefers to have something in his hand. I just thought it was an interesting quirk. When he was a few months old he seemed to wave his hand back and forth (almost flapping-ish) while falling asleep. I would take my hand and touch-soothe him and now he prefers to hold our finger or wrap himself around our arm when he falls asleep.

    He can be so very outgoing with people and does not have melt downs per se, so I’ve tried to convince myself that he will be okay. However, he continues to struggle to stay connected with me when I work 3 long days, preferring daddy who is his stay at home caregiver. He is also struggling with accessing his words.

    Thank you for posting your blog and allowing others to share. There is some solace in just writing this.

  8. Hi everyone! This is an old thread but I hope I reach someone. I took my son Solomon to the doctor because he pees ALOT. Like I have to put a diaper on him at night and he has been potty trained for a year. He is 4 now. Well when we went up there he was doing this thing he always does: rocking with a weird kind of screechy humming sound. The doctor was concerned and asked me some more questions about him and long story short we are going to Jackson, MS to see if he has high functioning autism. 😦 I am very sad about this. If anyone has any info please let me know.

    • I know at this point in the diagnosis it is difficult to be optomistic about but I can tell you that you will become at peace with the findings no matter what they are and that Autism does not have to be a bad thing, in fact, many parents see it as a blessing. I am one of them.
      The early years prove a little more challenging but as your son grows and you have a better understanding of him you will find the ‘autistic’ parts enjoyable and love him more for the refreshing way he views and experiences life.
      It is ok to feel sad and to feel cheated, that is natural and you expected your son to be different then what he is.
      Please be kind to yourself and allow yourself time to grieve the things you thought you’d have so that you can open your heart and arms to the things you do have. A beautiful, unique child.
      IT will get better. And you will get through it.
      There is lots of infomation on the web, I have links to many helpful organizations on my main page as well, contact your local government office to see what aids, programs and funding they may offer.
      Give your son time to mature and grow. My son was diagnosed at 4 as well and at almost 10 is exceeding all out expectations. He is a very kind, funny, loving and caring boy who loves his brothers, has many friends in the community and is keeping up in his class.

      HUGS to you,

  9. So many of the behaviors you described sound just like my son. I had concerns early on but his pediatrician kept assuring me he was fine. Now as we are preparing for his first year of school next year I took him in for his evaluation and they’re telling me he needs to have speech therapy and he’s showing signs of high functioning autism and may need to be formally evaluated. I’m so lost in all of this. Some days he seems like your typical four year old and others he’s so out of control all I want to do is cry. He’s a very smart, social little boy (a bit of a flirt really) but has a hard time with loud noises, textures and change among other things. When we moved out of state he almost completely stopped talking and using the restroom. It took me about two to three months to get him back to talking like he was before and about six to get him potty trained again. I don’t know why I’m writing this. I guess part of me just needed to vent my frustrations and part of me is hoping someone can give me a little insight on what to expect as we begin this journey.

    • I’m so very sorry for my late response!

      While I cant tell you what the journey for you will be like, I can tell you it gets better.
      Try to be patient and learn to read the signs of anixiety or discomfort. I learned to decide where we would go and then the places that added too much stress.
      It will also change as he grows older and matures.
      If he cries, try to see if there are commonalities to the breakdowns. Is he somewhere noisy? is it maybe uncomfortable for him. My son use to run off when he went to gym. It turned out he heard a motor whining for the fan in gym that we could not. It upset him.
      If you can, see an occupational therapist. They can access over and under stimulations and this helps to hedge behavior.
      My son needs lots of motion and movement to settle himself. We bought a trampoline and noticed a HUGE difference. He could self regulate his needs.

      Be kind to yourself my friend., This is all new and it takes much adjusting to find a balance. πŸ™‚ You are doing the right things, and you are trying.
      Also, ask direct questions when things happen. If the loud sounds bother him, try ear plugs, or leave the area. He will learn to adjust in time or maybe he will always need to find a way to adapt πŸ™‚

      With age comes a better adjustment. My son is 10 now and we don’t see the same behaviors as when he was 4 or 5. And I will admit, it was a lot more difficult at that age.

      Good luck and know you are never alone πŸ™‚

  10. My child is 5. He had somewhat delayed milestones but it just seemed he would do it when he was ready. They were not far behind though. He has had fixations over the years…clocks, fans, etc. but would lose interest and go on after a month or two. He has had speech but more for the sounds. He is super social with all ages but can play well by himself which can appear that he would rather just be a social person with all and not just one person. He is very intelligent and seems to be highest with numbers and directions. He is loving and has great emotional feelings where appropriate. He is a class clown and craves your attention. One of my biggest concerns is food. He will only eat 5 or so different things and has to smell it first. He had mental breakdowns introducing new foods and we have tried everything possible to help. Nothing. Am I looking for something or could he possibly be high functioning autism? I sometimes think I have a gut feeling something isn’t right but then I don’t know. Please help with any suggestions. Thanks!

    • I have 4 boys and only one on the spectrum. What I can offer as advice is if you feel something is wrong, don’t dismiss it but also remember everyone grows at own pace and nothing is wrong.
      If your son is happy then that is all that matters.
      My five year old is very stubborn and refuses a lot of things to eat. I know he is not on spectrum morely like his Mom stubborn as hell and not going to be told what to do πŸ™‚
      Foods are something of a “grow to love” thing. My 7 yr old is finicky and my ASD 10 yr old less so. He is particular but not as much as the young ones that are not on spectrum.
      You are his Mom, you know him best. You know if he is happy or needs help. Learn to trust yourself and remember, we don’t need to be like the other parents and kids, be your own normal and don’t be such a hard judge πŸ™‚

  11. Hi I can definitely identify with this. My son Ruben (4), has a recent dx. I would say he is High Functioning, 12 months approx speech delay, but can do anything other kids can. His learning is a bit slower, but he is ahead is age for drawing. He has a twin sister, and she is well ahead in social interactions, but they say girls normally are. For us his hyper activity has masked alot of it. Being in school has surfaced much anxiety in him. This has led to meltdowns and very challenging behaviour. It gives me strength to know that things get better towards being 10 years old. Can you think of anything you have done to help your soon that was effective? Any special therapy on social cues? I see my Ruben as very social, but struggles to make friends. Gets far to over excited in certain settings. Maybe his language delay holds him back. We haven’t seen routines kick in yet either My son has alot of empathy and imagination to build things. There was was never the classic sings…Like all parents, I just want to do us much as I can to help him and hope that he will lead a normal life when he is older..Thanks x

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