Wednesday, December 31, 2008


That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

-William Shakespeare

Looking back I guess the earliest, clearest clue that our little boy had strayed off of the neurotypical path was that he did not always respond to his name. There were certainly other signs which I will set out later, but the failure to respond to his name was probably the first, clearest one.

Truth is, my wife and I never really noticed. Our little boy was always happy, sweet, energetic, and fun-loving. He was constantly babbling and cooing. He seemed advanced mechanically and physically. But as we approached and passed his second birthday, others noticed. Or, I should say, another noticed. A close, brave loved one mentioned it to me first in passing. If you call his name, he did not respond -- he did not look. The first time it was called to my attention, it seemed to me a meaningless observation that resulted from nothing more that an energetic toddler with better things to do then to indulge the whims of over-parenting. I "tested" him on my own time--with varying success. He responded sometimes, sometimes he didn't.

Then something happened.

The same loved one brought the topic up again-- this time with more urgency. Again, I attempted to shrug it off with a glib reply which conveyed a clear message…I was not concerned about his hearing. And then it came… The lack of name responsiveness was not a concern about hearing, it was a concern about Autism. My crazed Internet research later confirmed that indeed one of the first signs of autism in a young child is the child's failure to respond to his name.

Still, I was not convinced. Unbeknownst to my wife, I covertly started a series of passive tests, calling the little man from different angles, in different tones of voice, at different times, and during different activities. Sometimes he responded. Sometimes he did not. All in all I would approximate that depending on mood, activity and level of animation, he would respond about 50 percent of the time.

As I was going through this process, I searched at length to find the official study to put my mind at rest, one that said it only meant autism if he responded less than 10 percent of the time, or 4o percent of the time, etc... I do not remember if I ever found an answer to the magic number question, nor do I know if one exists. But what I do know now is that my child, who has now been officially diagnosed with autism, responded when his parents called his name about 50 percent of the time, and less often when he was called by others.

I feel it necessary to end this post with a disclaimer. I can think of many, many reasons short of autism that a child would not respond to his name. Off the top of my head I could think of a few: playfulness, obstinance, focusing on something else, busyness, tiredness, failure to hear, problems with hearing, no desire to respond, etc... But if the failure to respond occurs with any frequency or regularity, a flag should be raised. If this applies to you, I encourage you to research further and further and to go back and read my post on early intervention and to call. It can not hurt.

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