Autism & Asperger's Syndrome Expert Forum
Could my 5 year old have Autism?
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Questions in the Autism & Asperger's Syndrome forum are answered by researchers at the New England Center for Children. Topics covered include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Antisocial Personality Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Autism, blindness, bullying, clinical depression, deafness, dyslexia, mental retardation, and social alienation.

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Could my 5 year old have Autism?

I have 3 children ages 10, 5, and 4. My 10 year old and 4 year old are a smart as a whip. My 4 year old is more advanced than my 5 year old. He started kindergarden this year and he is the only one who can not spell his name in the class. He was accepted into the all day kindergarden program but I see no improvement in his work. He does not deal with changes very well. For example his teacher was absent for a day and he refused to eat lunch and was very emotional. my son also seems to take things to extremes happy or anger, my son can talk but with a lisp. His eyes have been tested and his ears. The tests can out fine. I don't know what is wrong, but my gut tells me it is something- if not autism then what?
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If you go into the autism forum, click on the Health page icon on the top right hand corner of that page.  Then have a look at "Behavioural Characteristics behind the Clinical Diagnosis of autism (ASDs)".  I have posted in there the DSM IV clinical criteria for a diagnosis of autism (and at the bottom I have also put the criteria for Aspergers).  This lists the behaviours that professionals will be looking for when they observe a child.  Parents have also posted examples of their child's behaviour that met the criteria to help give practical examples of behaviours that fit the criteria.
As you will see there are a list of possible behaviours and any child only has to get a number of them in any category, for example 2 out of 6.  But there are three sections and a child has to get a certain amount of behaviours from each category to get a diagnosis.  A child who failed to have any behaviours in one of the sections might get a diagnosis of something like PDD NOS.
It is very important that a child is observed by a multi disciplinary team that has experience of diagnosing autistic spectrum disorders.  Typically that might entail a paediatrician, clinical/educational pyschologist, occupational therapist etc.
There are many 'autistic' behaviours that are 'normal' in children up to a certain age or to a certain extent.  
Things from your post that I would recognise as possibly being on the spectrum are:-
Academic difficulties.  Children with autism can find it hard to learn to read and write.  Those with Aspergers tend to do better academically.  My son for example is 7 and is still not reading independently.  He finds it hard to learn and apply phonics.  He can read a book once and memorise it giving the 'appearance' of being able to read.  But he cannot always recognise those same words in a different context.
Change is always a problem because one small change alters the 'whole' experience for them and makes it unrecognisable or very stressful for them.  In school they need alot of structure and routine with alot of visual supports to help them go through their work independently.
What is he like with other types of change such as having to take a toy off him because it is time to go out.  Or having to go shopping and you go a different route.  Or you tell him you are going to the supermarket but then remember you also have to get petrol or go to another shop.
Extremes in emotion are common.  They appear to 'overreact' and then cannot get their feelings under control for quite a while.  They are not being spoilt or mardy they really do get overwhelmed and flooded with emotion that they cannot bring under control.  They need structures in place to help them cope and help them learn about emotions and how they should handle their feelings.
What is his speech like.  Does he repeat back to you things you say or things he has heard on TV.
How does he interact socially with his age group.  In a group of his peers would he be in the middle of it or on the edges of the group or totally separated from them doing his own thing.
Does he have any sensory issues such as appearing deaf, covering his ears, complaining of being hurt when he has only been touched, appears clumsy or problems with co-ordination etc.
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Jason C Bourret, Ph.D., BCBA-DBlank
The New England Center for Children
Southborough, MA
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