When Kathryn Loganbill’s son, Levi, was born in 2012, she thought everything was fine. She had no problems during her pregnancy and Levi came into the world at a healthy, eight pounds five ounces.
Initially, Levi seemed like he was developing normally. He learned to roll over, crawl, and walk at the typical age. But at around six months, Loganbill began to notice Levi acted a little differently than most babies his age. She says, “He could sit through a whole movie without moving around. I don’t know many six-month-olds that will sit and watch TV for that long of a period of time.”
Loganbill also noticed other things that were a little different. For example, when Levi got excited about something, he would ball his fists up and squeeze them. She also noticed that Levi showed very little interest in toys and that he was more fussy than her other son at that same age.
It wasn’t until after Levi turned one that Loganbill really started to be concerned. He didn’t talk at all or engage with other people. He didn’t respond when she read him books and, in general, didn’t notice things happening around him that other kids his age usually noticed. “I honestly felt that he was just developing slower. I kept comparing him to my oldest son who is very smart. I assumed that Levi was more 'normal' and that his brother was just more advanced than he was.”
It was at Levi’s 18-month checkup when the doctor began to show some concern. He was worried that Levi wasn’t forming words or even pointing to things, but decided they should wait and follow up on it later.
In the meantime, Loganbill's mother did some internet research on Levi’s behavior and discovered that Levi fit some of the criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This hit Loganbill hard, even before she had a diagnosis. “I started crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t even talk,” she said.
Finally, at 22-months-old, their doctor confirmed that Levi did, in fact, fit the criteria for autism. She left feeling sad and defeated. She said she felt like her son was ripped from her.
Loganbill’s experiences were similar to those of many parents of children with autism. Often, getting a diagnosis can be difficult because each child is different, and the disorder exists on a spectrum. BuzzFeed spoke to child psychologist Sandra Burkhardt who says that if a parent has any concern at all, they should be sure to speak to their pediatrician. Regular screenings are important too. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during check-ups at 9 months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months. In addition, they should be screened specifically for ASD during check-ups at 18 months and 24 months. And while not all people with ASD will be affected by the disorder in the same way, the National Institute of Mental Health offers a list of signs and symptoms parents can be on the lookout for.
Once a child is diagnosed, therapy can help. Autism Speaks’ Lisa Goring told BuzzFeed that, while it depends on the individual child and their family’s needs, therapy generally includes an applied behavioral analysis, usually followed by speech and occupational therapy. “Some make progress and stop therapy, but some need therapy throughout their lifetimes.”
For Levi, therapy has proven to be helpful. Levi is now four-years-old and doing great according to his mother. He likes the same things other children like. He has favorite snacks and TV shows, laughs at funny things and shows a wide range of emotion. He has been in therapy since he was two and is going to preschool four days a week. He is now talking and his vocabulary continues to improve.
“It is so much fun to hear him talk and engage with us. He loves to interact with us, and he gives the best hugs.”
Autism Speaks offers free information and online tools to help parents on their site www.AutismSpeaks.org. This includes important links to an M-CHAT-R Tool for home screening. Autism Speaks also offers a free, 100-Day Tool Kit for Newly-Diagnosed Families of Young Children which Goring says is “really roadmap emotionally on how you may be feeling, treatment options, and how to get started.”
You can follow Levi's autism journey here.