A quick search for a book about baby milestones will find you more than 850,000 titles. Why? Because we parents need constant reassurance that our little ones are doing OK.
Most parents run through the list, available by the week or month, compare it to their little one – and sigh with relief when their baby measures up. Unfortunately, not all parents get to that sigh. When you see billboards declaring that one in 110 children will be born with autism, it's impossible not to worry. So, as a new parent, what can you do?
Gather yourself – and your thoughts
As a mother of a child who was indeed diagnosed with autism, let me first tell you that you need to relax. Kids do develop at their own rate, and guidelines are simply that – guidelines. Although worrying is par for the course, focus more on the joy that your baby brings.
As you have concerns, write them down in a designated notebook. Include your baby's age, your observation and why it alarms you. Perhaps there are patterns that will make sense to you or your doctor that you otherwise would have missed.
When you head to the pediatrician's office, be sure to bring this notebook with you. If there are concerns and there is no doctor visit scheduled soon, call. Parents need to listen to their instincts.
When you're with the doctor
Once at the doctor's office, be sure to ask all of your questions. If you feel you're not being heard, calmly let your pediatrician know why you are concerned. Be open to what the doctor has to say, but consider changing your pediatrician if you are not feeling respected.
Another useful tip is to take notes on the information your pediatrician offers you. You can use this to comfort yourself if necessary – or, in case you decide to go for a second opinion, you will have it if the next doctor asks.
Concerns and next steps
If there is a concern that warrants exploring, your doctor may discuss meeting with an "early intervention specialist," and will provide you with the necessary information to contact one.
This may be scary, but it's a positive step. Early intervention is key for your child's success. Research has proven time and time again that the earlier you detect a developmental delay in your child and begin therapy, the more likely your child will not require as many services later – if at all.
During this assessment process, you may meet with audiologists to screen for hearing loss, a speech therapist and an occupational therapist to look at fine and gross motor skills (the ability to grab objects or crawl are examples).
One important thing is to trust the therapists to do their job. While demanding an answer is a natural reaction, it isn't always best to do so. Depending on the diagnosis, therapy can be very specific, and it is crucial that the correct issue be treated.
This process can be incredibly emotional, but if I can offer any piece of advice, it's to make sure you focus on staying positive. Talking about it may help you process the information – but then find fun things to do, talk about other things, and/or get a babysitter and go dancing.
Your child is not the diagnosis, nor does it define your family. It is a name used to determine the therapy your child will receive.