Autism Testing or Parenting Classes? What Would You Do?

Updated on October 04, 2010
L.O. asks from North Platte, NE
18 answers

I have a question for all you lovely ladies out there. My son is 4 1/2 and I'm at a loss right now on what to do to help him succeed. He is a VERY VERY active little boy (I swear his favorite activity is running AWAY from me). He has some speech problems (drops consonants in words, sometimes the beginning sometimes the end, sometimes the middle and mispronounces beginning consonants a lot) he has some major fine motor problems (lets just say I'm lucky if I can get him to draw an x or a circle other than that it's scribbles, can't figure out if he's left/right handed, can't hold a pen/pencil correctly without help). He does not know personal boundaries (he will hug a complete stranger upon meeting them, he always has to be touching you if you are near, currently has a girlfriend in school who he loves to give hugs to) but is EXTREMELY social (thinks everyone is his friend even if they are mean to him). He has a problem with spacial awareness it seems (can't catch even a beach ball at all when gently thrown to him). He also is a flapper (that's what I call it) where when he his happy or excited he will flap his arms (bends arms at elbows and flaps his hands). My brother has an autistic son and through discussion with his wife she was telling me that some of these problems are big RED FLAGS for autism and I should get him tested. My MIL (grrr) thinks that all of this can be solved with more discipline (I promise I discipline my child now she just thinks that more would solve it), or more attention (I'm at SAHM mom and I promise I spend lots of time with my kids) would fix it. I love my son a lot but it is so hard to deal with him some days (the not listening very often and running away is really really getting old) and with him being as social as he is I put him in Preschool run by our school district out of the local Elementary School. He LOVES it. He is (hopefully) getting speech help and Occupational Therapy Help at preschool (not sure on how much as the Early Intevention People at the district can't get there eggs in a row to nail down a time to discuss his IEP yet). But my husband and I have decided that we would like to take a parenting class to see if there is something we can do better as parents because we feel so frustrated as parents with him most the time that something has to change or I'm going to snap. I am wondering if I should take my SIL's advice and get him tested for Autism (BTW he met all the milestones as a baby right on the date - crawled at 6 month, walked a week after he turned one, rolled over at 3 mths, talked in sentences by 2 1/2 (of course no one but me understood him very well but oh well)) or not. Do you think just regular parenting classes will give me the tools to deal with him better or by getting him tested will that help more so. I'm just not sure what to do. I swear he is ADHD but he has calmed down some since he was 2. Please help I'm really at a loss of what to do. Please don't tell me I'm a horrible mother either, that's basically how I felt when I got off the phone with my MIL and I don't need that right now.

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So What Happened?

I took all of your answers (and thank you so much they really boosted me up when I was feeling really down). I am having him tested by the school district and just got him tested by a Child Psychologist and it turns out he has ADHD. He does have some autistic tendencies but those are getting better and when I sat down with the school district to do a MDT we discovered that he his growing by leaps in bounds with several physical areas that I was concerned about. We are thinking of medicating but not sure at this point (he's only 4!) Thank you for all your help and encouragement. You are wonderful!

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answers from Portland on

He sounds more AD/HD than autistic to me. I personally have a problem with the tendency nowadays to diagnose kids who are social (even if they have poor social skills) as autistic. A core symptom of the disorder is marked impairment in social functioning.

But you should still get him evaluated as he may have senory issues and/or ADHD and you can get services for him.


answers from Clarksville on

I agree with Carla - maybe give the parenting classes a try. I definitely don't think more discipline will solve anything! It sounds as if there may be a few areas he's behind in, but I bet starting preschool and being around other children his age will help tremendously with that. If things don't seem to be improving after he's been in school for a bit, I would think about having some tests done then.

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answers from Seattle on

All the parenting classes in the world won't help (and in fact, many would hurt considerably) if you're running up against a disorder. Be that autism, adhd, dyslexia, dysgraphia, whatever. So why beat your head against a wall working at cross-purposes?

Personally, I wouldn't seek an "autism" eval, but a general eval.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Lafayette on

Have him evaluated or other conditions that can mimic autism. Then try to find a support group if parents with children tha thave similar condtiions. As the parent of an autistic child, whom I love dearly, but cvan also drive me nuts, parenting him is not the same as parenting c child without his challenges. It is a myth that bad parenting causes autism. it is a neurological condition. The fact that you are seeking help for him and for you tells me you are a wonderful mother 0 and don't forget that!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Some of what you describe sounds like my 4.5 year old son as well--very active, not a good listener, needs work on the writing/small motor stuff, not perfect pronunciation but improving ( I see some of his classmates, boys especially, doing similar stuff) . My son is in a regular pre-k class at his preschool. The social boundries I can't tell from your description if the are typical or not. The hand flapping thing is classic autism but by itself is not enough to go on. I'd try for the evaluation first. If you get a diagnosis you can probably find a parent support group related to it. Autistic Spectrum Disorders and ADD/ADHD are both pretty common.

I have a degree in counseling and worked doing child and family counseling before having kids. I have so many parenting books the shelf actually collapsed. I still will not be winning mother of the year any time soon. Just knowing what good parenting skills are does not mean you always use them. Sometimes having a high energy child that needs a lot of direction and discipline leaves you exhausted and short of patience. At least that is my experience and I doubt I am alone. It is worth getting parenting tips or taking a class. But don't be hard on yourself if that doesn't solve everything.
Also, The Difficult Child by Stanley Tureki is a good place to start reading. It takes you through what about your child is difficult and if it is serious enough to meet a specific diagnosis.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I urge you to do both. From your description and based on my experience with my grandson, I suspect he has some developmental issues. You'll probably need to start with his pediatrician who can then refer you to a developmental pediatrician for a complete evaluation of his speech, motor and neurological issues, etc. If your insurance doesn't require a referral start with the developmental pediatrician. Not all pediatricians are aware of the more advanced evaluation issues.

My grandson's pediatrician referred him, at nearly 3, for speech evaluation which he received thru the school district. He's now 7 and still having serious difficulties not only with speech but also with several other developmental issues. The school district is limited in resources and has been unable to diagnose and provide the all of the treatment my grandson needs. They finally referred his mother to a private resource. We all wish he'd been evaluated and treatment for developmental issues other than speech been started much earlier.

My grandson also met all the developmental milestones. There is more to developmental issues than those milestones. An obvious one for my grandson is that although he crawled and walked "on time" he still can't ride a trike.

Neither his pediatrician nor the school personnel were able to say what was wrong. People kept saying, something is going on and trying different things. Now that I've gone with him for evaluations I realize that he never received adequate evaluations in several areas.

When my grandson first entered the Early Intervention Program, a social worker came to his home and worked with his mother on discipline issues. This helped tremendously. I strongly recommend parenting classes. Parenting is difficult and we can all use everything available to us. Especially when our child is having extra issues.

You are not a horrible mother. I suggest not trying to talk with your mil about parenting issues. You need positive feedback. A person can make suggestions without making you feel bad. You are doing the best that you can. Asking for advice is a sign that you are a good mother.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Oh, I'm sure none of us would tell you you're a horrible mother.
When I got to the part about your MIL and discipline, I had to stop reading.
My reaction was emotional and vengeful and cruel.
In any event, is there any reason why you and DH can't take a parenting class along with whatever IEP and other programs are available for your son? If he's on the autism spectrum, there are a number of resources to draw upon. If he's been doing nicely in preschool, that's a wonderful thing. Meanwhile . . . . and I'm not recommending this; it was just an image that came to me. If MIL thinks discipline will resolve your son's behaviors,
I wonder if discipline would resolve any difficulties she may have.
Does she ever drop a dish or a cup?
Does she ever lose her keys or her glasses?
Maybe she needs discipline.
blushing at having fallen into nasty thinking

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Definitely pursue a diagnosis. It does sound like something is going on with your son. What it is, who knows? I'd start that first. If you feel you need parenting classes to help your son, then pursue that as well. Of the two, I think the diagnosis is more important. It sounds like you're a wonderful mother who is doing everything fine (don't let you MIL undermine your confidence!).


1 mom found this helpful


answers from McAllen on

I would have him tested for autism. It sounds like that to me (my son is on the spectrum). I can't tell you it may or may not be, but it's better just to be sure.

If you want to take a parenting class TOO, that would be cool, I did it and it's helped me a lot.
Good Luck!!



answers from San Francisco on

I would do both parenting classes and have him evaluated. Parenting classes may give you some ideas you had not thought of before. This doesn't mean you're a bad mother. It means your child and possibly your parenting styles don't match. So some outside perspective can be helpful. I would also have him evaluated. I am not sure it's autism, but if there is something you can get services to help him and possibly parenting tips for children with whatever he has. All the best.


answers from Detroit on

It sounds like your are describing my daughter to a T. First day of therapy at 18 mos, the therapist called her a tornado. She has always been advanced with gross motor skills but like your son she too is struggling with fine motor activities.

To me your son sounds like he has autism with a hyposensory disorder (Most autistics are hypersensoric). Unlike hypers who are overly stimulated, hypo kids are hungry for sensory inputs. I do not know how else to explain it but somehow their sensoric experiences are dulled, underloaded somehow so they have to compensate. Your son is probably in a constant whirlwind. Jumps a lot, climbs a lot, likes tight places he can squeeze into. Mine also likes to lick and pinch and some type of pressure. She seriously can go from 60 to 0 in secs when I squeeze and tug the lobes of her ears. At school she wears a weighted vest when needed. Stimming is also a classic sign of autism, mine also flaps her arms when she gets excited.

I suggest you see a neurologist and have him evaluated. Pediatricians have a tendency to tag this disorder as a discipline issue. Truth is autistics do have behavioral issues as part of their make up. They need to be taught behavioral rules and how to recognize social cues.

Does your school district have an early childhood special education program? Talk to your pediatrician about that. You should be able to get a recommendation. It is geared towards kids with speech issues plus there is also OT and PT

Also do a search in your area for centers for autism. My daughter is in a social class and it has helped her a lot.



answers from Detroit on

I would talk to your pediatrician about your concerns, have your son evaluated, and then go from there. Don't let your MIL get to you - remember, she might be from a time when autism and other disorders were not as easily recognized and options for treatments were few and far between. If your son does end up being autistic or something else, than hopefully you can start to educate her as to his unique needs. It's always easy for some people to stand back and tell you what you need to be doing when they are not in that situation themselves. Good luck to you, I hope you find the help you need.


answers from Washington DC on

I suggest you do go to parenting classes -- all kids are different and if you pick up one little tidbit that works for this kid, then it was worth the time.
I also suggest you enroll him in Karate classes. They are very structured. The kids learn to listen and be respectful.
You can talk to the Sensei (the teacher) and tell him your concerns - his running away, his not listening, his bad behavior - whatever - and he will incorporate that into his class. He will set goals for your son to meet with a reward at the next class if he succeeds. If he doesn't succeed, he will encourage and set the goal again. It is really terrific!
You also need to be extremely consistent with your son. You should sit down with him and set some rules and consequences - you also need to know his currency -- my son LOVED television. His world would end if he couldn't watch his 30 min. shows on PBS. For example: If you run in the street, you will lose TV for the rest of the day. If you don't listen to Mom, you will spend 4 min. in time out.
I also think you might consider general testing to see if there is a developmental issue. If there is, he is entitled to services. You are his advocate. You need to fight for this testing. If he doesn't have an IEP, they will not do any speech or OT with him.



answers from Las Vegas on

L., how wonderful you are for taking the next step in your sons life. If it were me, I would start with the parenting classes, since you already have hubby on board and then if you find it necessary, go for the testing. Either way, the parenting will not hurt. Be careful not to overload you or hubby with parenting and testing and the not have either be effective.

Best wishes.


answers from Barnstable on

I would get him tested. Remember that at 4, he is not singled out by his peers, but as he gets older, he will be. Getting him help now will be a tremendous gift to him. And I would also seek support groups for parents with autistic kids (though he may not be autistic - he may have something else going on). Hearing from other parents in your situation can be very helpful.

The mind is a universe of riddles and we have barely touched the surface. Get him help and he will excel as he gets older :)

Best of Luck!



answers from Columbus on

No parenting class is going to help you with this, unless is it s parenting class about the particular special need your son has, and yes, once you figure that out, you should get some!

If your school district admitted him to a preschool program with an IEP, you have your answer. Act now, and get a private evaluation for your son. Schools do not give this to any child who does not need it, and they regularly refuse to give it to many who do, so if you got it, you should assume that your son not only qualifies, but will need more than he will ever get at school because they always underserve (I will explain this later in the post.) First things first...

Make an appointment with a Developmental Pediatrican in the monring. It will take quiet some time to get in, but call the nearest childrens hospital and make the appointment. This is not your regular pediatrician.

As soon as you get off the phone, call a Speech therapist and make an appointment for evaluation. As soon as you get off the phone, call an Occupational therapist for an evaouation. Start the therapy that they recomend. Your insurance may cover all, some or part of this. If you do not have insurance, find a way to get these serivices any way you can, even if you have to try to get state run coverage. It really is that important. The more intervention you do right now, the better off he will be. He can make more progress in the next three years than he will in the rest of his life, and time is the only free thing you have, don't waste a second of it, because you cannot get it back once it is gone.

You should look for a psychologist who can do play therapy with your son, which will help you to control him for now, and may give you some really good insights into his thinking.

You can start therapy based on what you see now, and not have a diagnosis, so do that. Adjust any private therapy once you have any word from the school about what they are doing for him, but still get the private therapy. Schools are only required to make your son functional at school. They do not treat neurobiological conditions, they do not diagnose neurobiological conditions, and you don't want them too. They can tell you if what they find in their edcuational evaluation is two things: consistent with a medical diagnosis of ______ or not. The data in that evaluation is used to determine if he has a need for special education, and what he needs to be sucessfully educated in the least restrictive environment appropriate for him. You want that to be regular Kindergarten on time. They do too, but not if it costs them too much money. The legal bar that they have to jump is incredibly low. They only have to prove that they provided your son with "some educational benefit" and they are done. Most schools do more, but the point is, they do not have to. You, on the other hand, want to maximize your sons potential, and that will take supplementary private services, and may mean that you provide the lions share of his treatment.

The Developmental Pediatrican will do a full evaluation that may include every aspect of his health and development that is needed to give you the full picture and a comprehensive treatement plan. The report will inclued all the areas you are worried about, and may also include an ENT, audiologist, vision specialsit, neurolgist, geneticist, physical therapist, and any other that is relevant to his care. The evaluation will take many hours, and will be 10 to 20 pages long. You can feel comfortable with any medical diagnosis this doctor makes for you. In my experience, a Board Certified Child Psychiatrist is the best and most accessable option for treatment once you have your diagnosis, what ever that may be. Keep accessing all the private therapy, and add to it if recomended.

You will find that his needs will change as he grows. This is to be expected. His diagnosis may change, do not let that throw you. Keep at it, developmental issues are moving targets. As soon as you think you have it all figured out, it is going to change. It is the nature of the beast, so be prepaired.

You should access social skills classes and cognative behaviroal therapy as soon as he is old enough. He may benefit from something called Applied Behaviroal Anaylsis (ABA therapy.) If you need it, get it, but know that this will not likely be offered at school. It is intensive, 40 hours per week, and is expensive, but if he needs this, he needs this.

As for ADHD, you should know that any child with an ASD fully covers the entire ADHD diagnosis too, so you are probably not wrong at all. He does nto need to be one or the other. If he has an ASD, he could be diagnosed as ADHD and they would not be wrong, they would just be missing something. If the school district says that he has ADHD, and they are willing to serve him, you will be wasting your time arguing too much about it. Simpley say that you disagree, but are willing to let them serve him, make note of it in writing on the IEP, so that you document your point, and move on. This is a common tactic for first time IEP's. They can deny service all together if you reject the initial evaluation. Most times, this is not worth the fight. The category they serve him under can change later, and, this is most important: Chidren are served under the IEP based on their needs indentified in the data, not the category their diagnosis qualifies them for. So, if he gets in, he gets served, and you can advocate more easily for what he needs based on the numbers in his evaluation than you can by arguing what to call him. For this, you need to learn how to advocate well. Log on to and start reading about advocacy. He is recieving this preschool under IDEA, so read about preschool placements and get going on what you need to know. If you feel overwhelmed, go to the yellow pages on that site, and find an advocate to help you, that is what I do, I go to IEP meetings with parents and help them access the best services they can and keep them from being taken advantage of. While we are on the subject of "best" you want to take that out of your vocabulary when you are at IEP meetings. The word you want to use is always "appropriate" never best, even if the school uses best, you can't. Your son is not entitled to best, just appropriate. Never even say best, if you happen to stumble into the best, and have labled it appropriate, he can actually get the best, so like the argument over what to call his diagnois, only call the things you want for him appropriate.

Another caution. You are going to have a lot of people tell you about great treatments, detox, diet, food dyes, strange therapies, all kinds of things that will sound wonderful, and they will know someone whose child's symptoms disappeared, or they had what seems like a cure in weeks or months. This is part of the territory. They don't work, or everyone would be doing it, and your Developmental Pediatrician would send you there for treatment. Standard treatment is not flashy, is not a cure, and takes years of hard work and the progress is not always quick or easy. If your son needs medical intervention, that is not a cop out, that is not the easy way out, and it will not replace hours of therapy and hard work every single day and week of his life, it will simpley make that hard work a little eaiser and accessable to him, and since brains are flesh and blood, medical intervention is not only appropriate, but, it is best (and you can use that word when you talk to the doctors, because he is entiteled to the very best from them!)

Stay on the path. Slow and steady wins this race. The other treatmens are expensive and you will need every penny you have for standard care, because it is not inexpensive.

Finally, if you feel hopeless or depressed, get treatment right away. It is univerisally common, primary care givers, especially Moms, may need some treatment themselves because this is a very difficult job. It is not anything to be ashamed of. Get help if you need it, consider this like the oxygen mask on the plane, and put it on yourself first so that you are better able to help him along the way. No shame invloved in any of it, not for him, not for you, and none of this is a charachter defect. You are a good Mom, and not even good Moms can dicipline away a neruological difference. You will need targeted help to get the message to his atypical neuralogical being, and that is OK. No blame, no shame.

Let me know if I can help you any more, I can usually point you in the right direction, particularly with school issues.

God bless,



answers from Boston on

Once you have requested an evaluation done at your school they only have a set time period to do and have the IEP meeting with you. check to see if you it is falling within your states guidelines.

I would also speak with your pediatrician and get a referral to have your son privately evaluated and diagnosed then join a local support group. I don't think parenting classes will offer you much help.



answers from New York on

you sound like a really great mom to me, dont give your mil a second thought (easier said than done, i know).... meanwhile, i think parenting classes sound like a great idea. if nothing else, you will realize that you are not alone and that everyone -- ALL of us, could be doing things better than we are to some degree. i remember when i went to a breastfeeding class when i was having so much difficulty with my first baby, it was awful and i was truly on the brink. the class didnt help me with breastfeeding at all, but i still remember sitting there with all these other emotional and insecure moms and just starting to cry and cry with relief because i finally felt so normal! it was wonderful. anyway... as for getting an evaluation, i dont see any harm in that either. although the hand flapping is a red flag, it really doesnt sound to me like an autism issue because your son is so social and connected to everyone. i mean, what do i know, im sure your sister in law knows better, but i wouldnt be so worried about him being autistic. but an eval to see what is going on, if anything, is a great idea. if he can get some help, why not? and the sooner the better. plus you will feel better knowing that you have covered all the bases. best of luck :)

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