Thursday, November 01, 2007

Any Advice On Our Dilemma?

My wife and I are faced with a serious dilemma, and we would dearly appreciate any advice you might have to offer.

My wife's cousin has a young son we're convinced falls somewhere along the autistic spectrum. I believed very early on that he exhibited signs of this, and my wife and her sister agree with me. He recently turned three, but he doesn't speak more than a word or two at a time and usually doesn't speak at all. Even more noticeable is his lack of responsiveness to people. When you speak to him, he doesn't look at you, or he does so only fleetingly. He directs his attention to the objects he's playing with rather than to the people around him, even if those people are trying to interact with him in his play. He's a very cute little boy and seems as though he may be quite intelligent in some respects. But his glaring unresponsiveness to people, lack of verbal communicativeness, repetitive play patterns, strong startle reactions to unexpected noises and other stimuli, and numerous other traits and behaviors definitely raise alarming red flags.

And this became all the more apparent to us in the wake of a recent recommendation, widely discussed in the media, from the American Academy of Pediatrics that all toddlers be screened for autism twice by the time they're two years old, and our viewing of some website videos contrasting autistic with normal childhood behavior at different ages. Seeing these videos completely erased any lingering doubts we may have had about our concerns. The boy in question exhibits in spades virtually all the telltale signs revealed by the videos.

Our problem is, where do we go from here? The boy's mother and grandparents have also expressed their suspicions at times that something isn't right with the boy and that this something could be autism, but they won't do anything about it, and they seem determined to deny that there's a problem severe enough that he won't "grow out of it" in time. They seize upon any little sign of intellectual or verbal development as proof that the boy is not autistic, that's he already growing out of any problems he may have, and that he's going to be just fine without any kind of intervention.

For instance, when they and the boy visited us yesterday, they proudly told us how he could now recite the alphabet from A to Z and read out the address numbers of houses including ours. To complicate things even further, his pediatrician allegedly hasn't said anything, and one of my wife's aunts and her pediatrician daughter came here from Thailand a few months ago and stayed with them for a week, and the pediatrician daughter reputedly told them that the boy was not autistic.

I don't believe her, and I don't think they, in their heart-of-hearts, believe her either. But they desperately want to, and so they won't take the boy to a specialist and have him expertly evaluated and get him the help he needs as soon as possible to afford him the best chance of living a relatively normal life.

My wife and I don't know what to do. I, for one, feel very concerned for this boy. My mother has told me that when I was very young, she feared that I was autistic. And this was in the mid- 1950's when autism didn't receive anything like the publicity it does now. And my life has been a mess ever since as I've struggled abnormally with life's normal tasks. I don't want to see this or worse happen to the boy. But how can my wife and I persuade his parents and grandparents to do anything about it? Whenever my wife has mentioned her concerns, they become defensive and upset, and we don't want to alienate them. Should we keep bringing up the subject anyway? Or should we simply throw up our hands and say, "It's not our place to do anything about it, or, even if it were, there's nothing we can do if they won't listen to us."?

Does anyone out there have any suggestions?

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