A few posts ago we talked about gifted kids who were misdiagnosed as having ADD or ADHD. Cookie magazine's March & April issue (on news stands) has an equally alarming essay about a gifted boy named Alex who was misdiagnosed as autistic.
Cookie is a new magazine, and it's pretty funny -- think Vogue, only instead of the Fendi "it" bag your accessory is a toddler. The back cover ad has children in Kenneth Cole Reaction clothing and one of the articles is about jetting with your family to Sweden. But leaving that aside, "Normal," an essay by Aliza Valdes-Rodriguez, is worth wading through the too-cute spring frocks.
Valdes-Rodriguez's son, Alex, spoke very early. He spoke in full sentences. He wouldn't walk for ages, then just decided to do so and did so. He would become obsessed with one particular game. When he kept speaking of himself in the second or third person, though, his parents became worried. Teachers suggested it might be autism. They had him tested, and the Southwestern Autism Network said that was indeed his issue. His parents were devastated.
Of course, Alex picked up on his parents' devastation, and would talk about them being sad. This was the first clue that he might have been misdiagnosed. Autistic children have an impaired abilty to understand emotions and emotional cues from other people. Valdes-Rodriguez did some more reading, and came to realize what might have happened. "Alex," she writes, "is a brown-skinned boy named Rodriguez in New Mexico, the poorest state in the union. I remembered that when I had suggested to one of the clinicians that perhaps Alex was simply a genius, he chuckled, as if this could not be possible."
But indeed it was possible. Growing up, the writer had to fight to be recognized as gifted herself. Now, the same thing was happening with her child. She got him retested by more autism experts, and they said the original diagnosis was dead wrong. She just had a very, very, very bright boy on her hands.
So why the strange third person talking? The obsessive behavior? These are signs of autism. It turns out that Alex's parents were "colluding to make this kid the way he is," according to the professor of psychology they took him to. Both neglected and misunderstood as kids, the two wouldn't let Alex do anything on his own -- smothering him in a sense. The professor pointed out that the Rodriguez family always referred to Alex as "we" -- as in "Now we're going to put on pants." Alex was just speaking this language style right back.
Once the family became aware of the problem, they changed it, and Alex's "autism" disappeared. The writer has some great thoughts about the struggles of gifted kids at the end, but you shiver to think what could have happened if she didn't keep poking at the diagnosis to see what was true and what was not.