Autism & Asperger's Syndrome Expert Forum
Is my 5 year old autistic?
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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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Is my 5 year old autistic?

My five year old daughter is "behind" the kids her age. She did not talk until she was 4 years old. We are a multilingual family. She tries to establish contact with her peers/adults in the street asking "Hi! What are you doing?". She plays "fantasy games". She pretends  she is a dinosaur, a dog, etc. She loves PC games, she can count up tp 30. She is a very caring and loving kid. When she is with her peers she has a tendency to be in "her own world", until when she discovers that she can play a fun game with them. She has a wonderful laughter. She knows very well what she wants. But, she still can't say what she "feels". If she sees her sister crying she starts crying as well; if a music is too "sad" or "sweet" tears start running down her eyes.
She gets "fixated" at times with the same game (at the moment it’s "puzzle bubble" and she asks us to put the music of the game continuously). She "dances" well. She loves music in general, she follows the rythm very well. She likes new experiences. At the beginning she might say "no" to something new that she does not know, but when she is in the specific situation she goes for it big time. We have a problem if we force her to do something. We still get a tantrum at times. If I tell her to do something she doesn't want to do she tosses herself on the floor, starts saying things we might not understand which are not really related with the specific situation. On top of that if we say "get up" she answers "no get down". If we say "Anna stop" she says "Maria stop". She does not repeat what we say, she goes for the opposite. If she is really upset she can get to the point of biting (not hard). If her sister cries because of her attitude, she approaches her, trying to console her but being clumsy and she apoligizes when we tell her to. She is very skilled in computer games. She har a great body coordination. She is able to climb high and she barely ever loses her balance. Any advice?

Thank you in advance.





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Autism and Asperger’s Disorders are characterized by a similar set of characteristics, most notably deficits in social interaction skills, communication skills, and highly stereotyped behaviors (e.g., repetitive motor or vocal behaviors that don’t seem to serve any function) or interests (topics of conversation or activity are highly restricted or narrow).  The major difference among the disorders is in language development: in Asperger’s Disorder, there is no delay in early language development. In Autism, there is some delay in language acquisition.  Also, delays (in language or social development) must be noted to occur prior to age 3 for a diagnosis of Autism.
Formal diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders requires in-person evaluation by a professional; given your concerns, I’d recommend that you seek the advice of your pediatrician.  Your description sounds as though she does have some language delays, although delayed language acquisition is more common in multi-lingual families (so it’s difficult to tell whether the language delay is really diagnostically relevant).  It also sounds as though she might have some other indicators of autism, although your description doesn’t sound like they are occurring at very interfering levels (somewhat delayed social interaction skills, and possibly some repetitive or restricted interests).  In-person evaluation is critical, though, because one cannot tell from a description whether she truly meets diagnostic criteria for any of the spectrum disorders.  A typically-developing child may also display these characteristics to some extent – preoccupation with a particular game or song is pretty common in young children, as are tantrums, an inability to articulate feelings, and restricted attention spans.  
You are right to consider these things before she starts school, if only to ease your mind.  I recommend that you speak to your pediatrician, describe your concerns, and ask for his/her advice.  They may recommend evaluation by a professional more familiar with the disorders (or other relevant disorders), who can provide help with diagnosis and any recommended intervention.
Best of luck to you all.  
2 Comments
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I (the father of the child in this matter) would like to add a couple of things, which might clarify our daughter's bahaviour.

The things that concern us the most is that she is not capable of following instructions when she (for whatever motive) does not feel like following them:
- She throws herself on the street while crossing just because she didn't get the toy she wanted. One can forget any kind of reasoning in those situations.
- When she likes something (like my wife said earlier) she has to repeat that all day long for days on end (sometimes weeks even). It does not seem like a 'compulsive' thing though, it is more obsessive than anything else.
- She barely sits still. As in that she will sit at the table to eat, takes two bites and just walks away. If it doesn't interest her somehow, she just walks away and starts doing her own thing.
- It is very hard for her to follow any kind of routine other than what she adapted herself.

Putting this all together, we are concerned about the fact that in about a year she will have to go to school. The way we know her, we don't see her capable of following the regime of a school, where she actually has to follow instructions of an authority.
She likes to do thing that challenge her intellectually, but it has to be her pick, in the way she wants to. If not, she either just walks away, or if we insist she throws a tantrum.

Now, what we are tying to figure out is whether we might have to have her checked for a potential disorder (whichever that might be) or whether she is just a bit of a spoiled brat. ;-)
Not that the disorder scenario would be a big deal, but it would allow us to better understand 'her world' and guide her appropriately.

Our concern is really only as far as it concerns her best interest. So we want to make sure that she gets the right kind of attention and treatment that helps her develop in the best way that we can offer her.
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