A Preschool Teacher Diagnosed Our Son as Autistic

I admit it....my son is a funny sort. We all are, really, in some way. But with him, you can see it right away. He’s passionate. He’s pretty smart. And most of all, he loves animals. He knows so much about them – more than the average adult.

It annoys him when people mix up cheetahs, leopards, and jaguars. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From age three, he could also spot the difference between a kudu and an impala – now those are just four-legged, hoofed antelopey things to the rest of us. He’s into biology. He can look at animal teeth and tell you whose it might be, look at scat (animal poo for us regular folks) and know which creature has passed by.

But once he got to preschool, there was a whole host of things he didn’t know about. He didn’t know the Ninja Turtles, Mario Brothers, or the movie of the month. We gave him only limited access to television – and nothing with any violence was allowed...and forget about video games. He didn’t use Legos or Duplos to make weapons or play any of those good guy / bad guy games. Instead, his play focused on animals and he tried to teach the others about the wonders of his favorite creature of the day.

He also differentiated between himself and "the sporty kids". When we put him in soccer class, he would take the orange cones and put them on his head and run around instead of doing drills. He didn’t see the point. He found the game boring. He preferred to play his way. He was definitely different. I knew that.

But when his preschool teacher diagnosed him as autistic, I was still shocked. Not shocked in an oh-no-my-son-is-autistic way but rather in a what-is-this-lady-talking-about kind of way. I didn’t know a whole lot about autism but with the little I knew, it just didn’t sit right.

At first, I just ignored her. But then her words had that sort of venomous effect that manages to get inside your bloodstream. What if I was in denial? What if I was the kind of parent that just doesn't want to admit there's something wrong? Do all parents of autistic kids have this reaction at first??

I started googling all of the telltale signs of autism, Asperger’s, any and all conditions that would confirm to the fact that there was something wrong with my child.

He loved animals. More than most. Knew a lot about them. Ok.

But he had no issues with communication. He was actually highly into languages and books and stories. He easily made friends at the playground and at the park. The kids at school liked him (and he them) and they still played together, when the game interested him – and it wasn’t all animals either. He got jokes. In fact, he loved them – and was a little kidster himself. He was full of empathy...was always worried about any crying baby, a kid wandering alone in the park, and made emotional connections with people and with characters in books or movies.

After my Google stint, I was back to my what-in-the-world-is-this-lady-talking-about mind frame. The only possible connection I could find was heightened sensory...he didn’t like the feel of scratchy wool and the smell of fruit really bothered him.

And of course, there were the animals.

The next day at pickup, I asked the teacher why she thought my son was autistic.

The Teacher: Well, he knows so much about animals, and he keeps talking
about them. He’s like an encyclopedia. He can go on and on.
Me: But what about the other signs . . . do you feel that his language isn’t up to level?
The Teacher: No, he’s actually advanced with language skills. He’s even starting to read.
Me: What about empathy? Do you feel like he’s lacking there?
The Teacher: No, he’s very kind and caring.
Me: Jokes, humor, emotional connections – what about those?
The Teacher: No, well . . . maybe he’s just five percent to ten percent autistic.

Seriously?! Five to ten percent autistic??? What does that mean? What am I then? Maybe I’m 12% autistic, maybe the teacher is 8%? Yeah, there's a spectrum...but, come on! To me, this was ridiculous.

But just to make sure, I grilled friends and family on their thoughts – and of course, spoke to the pediatrician as well, who incidentally was so furious that a preschool teacher would dole out any sort of diagnosis.

Through it all and to this day, I wonder...why have we reached a state where we pathologize personality? Why do quirks or passions or interests have to mean a medical disease? And sadly, what if he had encyclopedic knowledge about the Ninja Turtles or Mario Brothers or every type of Pokemon – would that sound an alarm as well? Or not so much?

Passion, quirks, personality should be celebrated. We're not raising cookie cutter kids, but individuals. They know different things...they live, love, celebrate different things. We don't need to label them for it.

Of course, there are kids with special needs. I don’t deny that. And every child should seek the resources that they need and deserve. But that doesn't make throwing medical terms around ok. Not by unlicensed professionals. Not by parents. Not by teachers. 

As for my “5-10% autistic” son, I think he’ll be just fine. Quirks and all.

Have you been in a situation where your child’s teacher rightly or wrongly diagnosed your child? How did you react?

Tags : preschool   toddlers   autism   

Deborah Essner
Wow... how careless of that preschool teacher. Great that mom follows her own instincts.
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