Friday, April 15, 2011

sometimes stranger anxiety is just stranger anxiety

Ever since the long-winded and incredibly expensive developmental pediatrician told me that my youngest child has a 1 in 20 chance of being diagnosed with autism (because his older brother has it), I have been hyper vigilant for any possible symptoms in my baby. I have worried that somewhere along the line, Tommy would start showing signs of developmental delay.

This anxiety has colored every milestone in his life for me. When Tommy started walking on time, I celebrated, but worried that he wouldn't talk when he was supposed to. When Tommy did start talking, I was concerned that he seemed to be echoing everything he heard. Could he have echolalia? Once he started speaking in sentences and I became convinced he does not, in fact, have echolalia, I prayed that his obsession with Thomas the Train was not a sign of Asperger's Syndrome.

If there is a symptom of autism spectrum disorder, you can be guaranteed I have been watching for it in my poor baby, zeroing in on any aberrant behavior like a heat-seeking missile.

I am pretty sure he is fine developmentally and I do not believe he has autism. Still, I worry.

And because this is on my mind all the time, and because I worry in a way I never would have had I not already had a child on the spectrum, and because I am slightly neurotic, I have a tendency to maybe be a touch on the sensitive side if someone even remotely suggests that my 2 youngest kids might not be 100% developmentally perfect.

Yesterday, I took Charlotte in for her kindergarten screening. When we got to the site, the school social worker (who knows my family because of her work with Danny) suggested I take Tommy in to the Early Intervention screening while I waited for Charlotte. She informed me that children as young as birth can be screened just to make sure they are on track developmentally. She must have forgotten how intimately familiar I am with the EI system.

So, there I was, being strong-armed into taking Tommy into a room with some early education lady to see if he's on track. Just for grins. You know, in case I wasn't already worn raw from the dozens and dozens of evaluations, screenings, and tests I have had to subject Danny to in his 7 short years of life.

I didn't want to do it. I just didn't. It's not that I was afraid they'd find something wrong with Tommy, though I would be lying if I said that this irrational idea hadn't crossed my mind. I just didn't feel up to the examination, the scrutiny, and the indirect, if unintended analysis of my parenting and teaching ability. Because I don't care what anyone says, there is an unspoken implication that the parents are either to blame or responsible for what her kid can and cannot do.

It's true.

I have spoken with so many parents who proudly bragged about how well their kid did on some evaluation, believing in their hearts that it was a reflection of how well they prepared their child.
And I have heard other parents abashedly explain that little Jimmy can't button buttons because he has no darn buttons on any of his clothes. And Susie doesn't know where her knuckles are because her mother was too busy keeping her fed and reading her books to even think about teaching her such an obscure body part. These parents come away feeling inadequate, like they somehow have failed their kids. And that just sucks.

On top of that, I just knew, I KNEW that my delightful 2-year-old was not going to go along with what this smiling scary stranger wanted him to do.

The kid may not be developmentally delayed, but he IS stubborn.

Against my wishes, I allowed myself to be ushered into a classroom where I poured myself into a child-sized chair while holding a crying toddler on my lap. Right from the start, alarm bells went off in Miss Early Intervention's mind about my child. The first question out of her mouth was, "Do you stay home with Tommy?"

I couldn't help feeling like she blamed Tommy's crying on my decision to stay home. Especially after she asked the question again not 10 minutes later.

Tommy, as predicted, wanted nothing to do with Miss EI and her reindeer games. He wasn't interested in her boring two-piece puzzle. That kind of thing was old hat for Tom. He wasn't about to give in to her interrogation and answer her questions. He kept his lips glued together, not deigning to answer any of her questions.

Miss EI looked at me with concern and started grilling me. Does Tommy spend time with other people? When there are other kids around, does he play with them? If there are other people around, does Tommy go off in a corner by himself?

I mentally rolled my eyes when despite my every effort to reassure her that Tommy was actually quite a social little boy, she encouraged me to call her in three months if I had any concerns. Even after she conceded that Tommy's speech was advanced (he did finally start talking, but still refused to answer her questions, instead choosing to speak about his own topics of choice), she persisted in voicing concerns over his stranger anxiety.

Which is when I informed her that my oldest has autism, that I was well aware of the warning signs and I had been watching for symptoms for the last 2 years.

I know in my heart that Tom is fine. I know he most likely has Sensory Processing Disorder, but I am also convinced that autism is not a diagnosis he will ever receive. I am convinced he is right on track developmentally.

Still, sitting in that room, being grilled by a stranger who knew nothing about my son, made me doubt myself, made me worry I was wrong. Never mind that I am the kid's mother. Never mind that I have a Master's degree in education. Never mind that I am probably much better informed about autism than Miss EI is. And never mind that I know she was only doing her job. She wasn't necessarily saying Tommy was autistic. She was just bringing up issues that she felt should be raised.

It doesn't matter. I still doubted myself.

And this is why I detest these stupid screenings, though I know they are important and serve a purpose: because I allow them to make me doubt my judgment, which is no one's fault but my own.

NOTE: I don't intend to criticize the Early Intervention worker. She was just doing her job, and was doing it right. I think it's important to ask those questions, to make parents aware of autism, so they can get their kids diagnosed early. I am completely supportive of that. It's just that the whole process is less than pleasant for me. Because I'm cranky and PMS-ing and super, super sensitive.


Sprite's Keeper said...

Ugh, I feel so bad for you! The school has no right to push testing on a two year old unless the parent specifically requests it. Daycare is great for children socially, I completely agree, however, stranger anxiety would still be there since Tommy had never met this woman or interacted with her. My four year old still has clingy moments and her teacher is someone she's known her entire life. You know Tommy best. Don't let this person taint your thoughts. Hugs!

Lizbeth said...

She must know my speech therapist. ;)

I hate that---I know they're doing what they have to but it doesn't do anything for our self esteem, does it?
You have a been on the lookout for signs since birth and know your child better than anyone and it still tanks to feel judged and get the second degree. Because, to some degree, we do rely on outsiders to help us determine what's wrong and what to do.

At the end of the day, you know in your heart what's going on (and what's not) and it will all shake out.

Hugs to you in the meantime.

K- floortime lite mama said...

Many many hugs
I think us mommies have FABULOUS -A-dars -( term coined by the wonderful Amanda Broadfoot )
and we really know well when something is off the typical path

Kelly said...

That just sounds miserable. I'm sure every parent is hyper-sensitive about where there kid is developmentally, and that sensitivity is even moreso when you have been dealing with issues already in your other kids.

Also, I know she was doing her job, but how effective are those interviews generally? A lot of kids have some sort of stranger anxiety, or don't feel like performing when they're asked to perform. I could see if a child has some extreme delays or other obvious signs, but I think a run-of-the-mill kid on an off day could easily get labeled as a concern after such a quick observation.

PS I know LOTS of boys who are OBSESSED with Thomas, and they're fine. :)

Spectrummy Mummy said...

Oh my, we are very similar. And my 2 year-old is a bundle of quirks, separation anxiety and Thomas the Train love.
I'm the one who pushes for all the evaluations, because I'm terrified of being overseas and not having access to the system. Still feel like I'm being judged though. In my case, definitely my own issue. Residue guilt from not having clairvoyance the first time around. :-)

Heather said...

I, too, am Ms. Early Intervention. And the mommy to a kiddo with PDD-NOS, SPD, anxiety, etc... I hate asking those questions! I can always see the look in parents eyes. But, I do my best to reassure them about all the positives. You child has great eye contact. He has great play skills. Then I recommend opportunities to get a kiddo interested in playing with other people with parents around. There's nothing wrong with stranger anxiety. It's a good thing for a kiddo to have.
I'm rambling now. What I really wanted to say was that you are so very correct. We worry and worry and worry and often times it's for nothing more than something that's already very developmentally appropriate.

Alysia said...

So first of all, can we stop living parallel lives yet? I mean, really...:-)

So you know we're where you are too. We canceled our 2 yr olds' full developmental eval because I know he doesn't have autism. I know it. But I know he's stubborn, shy and does not spend time with a lot of kids (because I'm still gun shy from all the bad interactions that happened with his older brother).

I also know he has a speech delay, that at 2.5 he talks like a 2 yr old does. So I'm bringing EI back in again in two weeks. Because the rules have changed, they have to do the whole testing with him again. I just want to catch him up with his speech so there isn't such a gap between receptive and expressive language.
And I hate that I even know those terms now.

So hang in there. We'll get through this with baby #3. Your gut has gotten you this far and I'm sure you're right on with this too.

Mrsbear said...

Why is it so easy for that tiny seed of doubt to blossom in our hearts? As a mom, I know I am always second guessing myself. You know your kids though and you're an involved, informed mom. I hope that knowledge puts you at ease.

MommyToTwoBoys said...

Oh my goodness Patty, I could have written this post! At one point I was worried I had guest posted and didn't remember! I had no idea our situations were so similar...granted we did only recently "meet."

I have the same EXACT feelings about my two year old. He does repeat, so I worry is it echolalia, he definitely has a touch of SPD, and I believe in my heart he is not on the spectrum and will also never be given that diagnosis. And I was 3 classes away from my Masters in Educational Leadership and Administration, but quit after having my first son. So much in common!

The only difference? I haven't made that trip to EI with him yet. I think I am partly lazy, partly don't want to deal with what I know comes after an eval, and partly I just know he will be OK. I am going to hold out until he turns 3, or at least that is what I am telling myself...

danette said...

Those feelings of self-doubt are so familiar... and yet so unnecessary when we take time to think about it, we know our own children better than anyone else, especially someone that has just met them.

When you said she asked you if you stayed home, my first thought was "at least she can say yes" and then you went on to say you felt she blamed his crying on you staying home. In the same situation, I would have felt she might be blaming it on my NOT being the at-home parent in our family. Just struck me as funny how no matter what our situation, we tend to let those creeping doubts in sometimes, especially in a stressful situation where someone is "evaluating."

Honestly it sounds like Tommy is doing really well, and I know you're doing a great job with all your kiddos!