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Autism/Autism, Asynchronous Development, Aspergers, Attention Deficit?



I have a son aged 33 months (almost 3 years old).  We heard from his kindergarten teachers that he is quite distracted in class and they’ve asked us to seek professional opinions.

His kindergarten assessment
Motor skills: Good gross motor skills, needs to develop fine motor skills in colouring and pasting
Cognitive: He is able to sit through a class discussion but distracted at times
Social Skills: He plays in a group but no interaction with others
Emotion:  He is a happy boy, loves music but likes to move about
Music & movement: Enjoys music and movement

The teachers noted that my son has a very good memory and is able to memorise the entire lesson, be it songs, bible verses, instructions or various lessons.  But he rarely answers the teacher when they ask him questions (he ignores them).  One of the cute things he has done (on quite a few occasions) is to sit in the teacher’s chair and to conduct a pretend lesson, imitating the teachers.  As there are 2 teachers in class, he knows which teacher has a soft heart (he’ll take the flash cards she pins on the wall), but will not disrupt the other teacher’s stuff (she’s more firm with him).  Cognitively, he has surprised us quite a bit, with his ability to learn new things, recognize places (even at night).  He can read a few simple words (both English and Chinese).  He can count to 20 in English and Chinese.  He has good language ability but is more self-directed in terms of guiding the conversation.  So he will not respond to me unless I talk about something he’s interested in. He has a wide variety of interest, and is not fixated on a routine.  He tends to have meltdowns if he doesn’t get his way.

Besides school, we noticed that he has difficulties sitting through the Sunday school class for his age.  After the 1st song, he’ll insist on leaving the class and walking around the church. This could be habit because we are quite permissive as parents and since young we have pretty much allowed our kids to do as they like (as long as they’re safe and don’t cause a nuisance to others).

He doesn’t look me in the eye when I talk to him or respond when I call him (he seems to have the ability to tune me out).  But he does respond to the mother when she calls and he does look her in the eye.  He is very affectionate with the domestic helper (she cares for his needs as both my wife and I work full time) and gives her hugs.  For the rest of us (mother, older sister and me the father), he allows us to hug him.  

We can’t figure out whether he has Attention Deficit Disorder, Asperger’s, Autism, Asynchronous Development.   We want to help him develop and parent him appropriately.  Appreciate your advise.

Dear SQ,

Thank your for providing me with so many details about your son's behavior in your description!  Based upon the description you have provided, I would recommend that you first go to your child's primary doctor (pediatrician) and discuss your concerns with him/her.  My response is going to focus primarily on the social behavior of typical three year olds.  A child on the spectrum can exhibit weak, average, or above-average cognitive skills but their social functioning can affect how they demonstrate these skills in a group setting.  At three years old, most typically developing children with respond consistently to their name and seek almost constant attention from an adult throughout the day.  When I say "seek attention" I mean the following things:  bring you things to "show," call your name and point to something,  attempt to get you to join his play, ask questions and make comments regarding everyday things, if unable to gain your attention through calling your name a 3 year old will go up to you, tug on your shirt, etc. to get you to respond-they are very persistent little people!  It is wired into their small brains to seek and gain lots of adult attention in order to learn more about their world.  Typically developing children will also look to you, as their parent, when faced with an unfamiliar situation (e.g. a dog approaches the child) and base their reaction to the reaction they see on your face (e.g. fear, happiness,  neutrality).  Children this age are becoming very good "face readers" and understand various emotions.  While all children this age are very "busy," many will want to share their experiences with you.  

On the other hand, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to not look at people's faces when communicating with them or when faced with a new situation. Children on the Spectrum often appear to "tune out" others and engage in solitary play.  If you have to work hard to gain and sustain your child's social attention, that is a red flag that your child needs to be further evaluated.  Pay attention to the quality of your child's play, is your child using toys in a functional manner?  Does he exhibit imagination and engage in some pretend play (e.g. feeding a baby and then putting the baby to bed)?  Is he willing to accept another person into his play scenario or does he tend to "shut down" and leave the area and/or become upset?  These can also be warning signs for a developmental disorder.  

Please rule out any physical causes also for your son's behavior, hearing checked, etc. In the United States, we have developmental specialists who are medical doctors specializing in a child's development.  These specialists, along with psychologists, are able to diagnose a child with Autism.  For further information about Autism Spectrum Disorders, please visit the website:  Autism  They have an excellent video library which documents the behavior of a typically developing peer opposed to a child on the autism spectrum.  Another helpful website is the Zero to Three website.  This website documents behavior exhibited by typically developing children up to age three.  

Please keep in mind that I am not a medical doctor or psychologist.  I am certainly not saying that your child has Autism, but rather that based upon the description you have provided me, it would be beneficial to pay a visit to your pediatrician and gain further insight into your concerns.  Early Intervention for children with Autism is very important, if a child has Autism, the earlier he/she receives therapy services the better.

Please keep me posted.  Thank you for your question.  


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Darcy Spinello


I will be more than happy to answer questions or address concerns regarding the signs and symptoms of Autism in very young children. I can provide information about typical and atypical development in babies/toddlers and have experience in early identification of Autism Spectrum Disorders in toddlers. My speciality is working with children ages Birth-5 who either have a recent diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder or who are displaying developmental delays which may later translate into a diagnosis of Autism. I work closely with families of children with Autism and have experience offering support to these families both at home and during outings in the community. I have also accompanied families to pediatric visits and can offer tips and strategies on how best to proceed when visiting a developmental specialist. I have specialized knowledge regarding the importance of play to a child's development and how to help a child with Autism learn how to play both independently and with peers. I have created a wide variety of visual aids to help young children with Autism succeed and become more independent. I am an avid researcher and regularly create and disseminate informational brochures/pamphlets for parents of young children with Autism. I am familiar with the Early Intervention Program as well as the Preschool Special Education program in New York.


I hold a Master's Degree in Special Education as well as New York State Certification for Children with Disabilities from Birth-2nd grade. I have nine years of diverse experience working with children with Autism in preschools, daycares, and home settings. My area of expertise is in working with very young children with developmental disabilities. I have worked as a one-to-one aide for several children with Autism, an Autism Tutor for a child with Autism in elementary school, and currently work as a special education itinerant teacher specializing in working with children with Autism and their families. I have given several presentations regarding the importance of play as well as the particular challenges parents/caregivers face when teaching a toddler/preschool child with Autism to engage in meaningful, functional, play activities.

Master of Science Birth - 2nd grade Children with Disabilities

Awards and Honors
Excellence in Capstone Research from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. My capstone was a carefully crafted six-month case study whereby myself and a locally renowned doctor of child psychology created, led, and assessed the success of an integrated play group based on Pamela Wolfberg's Integrated Play Group Model (IPG). The IPG model stresses the importance of children with Autism experiencing regular, carefully structured activities using a variety of materials within a play group setting. The play group members consist of regularly developing peer mentors (expert players) and one child with Autism (novice player); the goal is to help the child with Autism learn how to function within a group of his peers and form friendships. The regularly developing peers in the play group are given specific, consistent instruction that helps them understand the unique needs and challenges children with Autism face in play settings.

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