Friday, February 15, 2008

How Do You Know

I had an engaging conversation today with a guy who has an interest in autism. He’s not tied to it in the same way most of us are — that said, the PR agency he runs has the CDC as a client and its emerging autism group is one of his charges.

We were discussing the research and needs to communicate with parents about early intervention – as early as possible. This got me a bit on my soapbox — I started discussing how it is almost impossible to educate a certain set of parents on autism. The newbies. Seasoned parents, whether they are having their children a couple of years apart or even further, these folks know the markers for child development. They’ve seen little boys and little girls develop, and then when they see something – I’m gonna steal from Mel Brooks here – ‘Abby Normal’, they know exactly what to do – start hitting the pedetricians and specialists.

But for the parents that don’t have those markers, ie – this is their first child and they are fumbling and stumbing their way into their parenting groove, how do you know if your little boy or little girl is developing properly or if there is an issue? You aren’t seeing your pedetrician as often with a toddler as you were with an infant, so even if your pedetrician ‘suspects’ something…it would only be after a number of evaluations – which could mean months have passed. No, by the time that the parents are being told there is something potentially wrong with the kid, well, it is already past the early intervention points, (most typically).

My suggestion was to find the messaging ‘hot buttons’ and points of influence to target first-time parents and/or expectant parents. We know at this point (if any of us can remember that far back) that we were like sponges for information (why else would every mother-to-be read 8-10 books on becoming a new parent or what to expect….etc…) and this would be the ideal time to plant information in their heads, and to follow up with when the child makes the turn into his or her first year for markers and further education. But if you aren’t hitting these parents often with information early on… well, they’ll certainly not know early enough to ‘intervene as quickly as possible’.

I know enough 8 year old little boys to tell you still, today, that boys develop more slowly than girls (not a single boy I know truly knows how to properly brush his teeth, or where exactly/what drawer the clean underwear is actually kept in, in their rooms), so if you are doing a side-by-side comparison at the age of 2 or 3, without the markers or education, all these little boys might seem normal…or all autistic. Without the other markers and some education, eye contact issues, etc…how would the new mother know?  She’s only going to find out when it seems to be too late.

My friend nodded (I don’t know if I got through, or he just had to go, or if he decided that I’d slip on that soap box) in that way we do when we start to think about things in a different way or from another point of view. All I can really say is this: If Maya had come first, we would have known a few things about development early on with Demetrius. But he came first, and we didn’t really get going with testing until he was almost three years old – and frankly, I’m not 100% sure we aren’t still beating ourselves up for not getting him help earlier (even though we didn’t know what we didn’t know).  You guys know how it is as parents – we blame ourselves for alot, whether its logical or not, appropriate or not.

I’d love to make sure no other parent has to beat himself or herself up like that, ever again.

I guess that’s why I have a soap box with me at all times. Wink

Posted by Jerry in 22:06:59 | Permalink | Comments (8)