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Your Advice Requested: Do You Tell Another Parent Their Child Might Be Autistic?

By January 2, 2007

Parents with autistic children become finely attuned to the signs of autism. An averted gaze, language delays, difficulties with social engagement are all much more obvious to our eyes. Where another parent may see only shyness, we are more likely to see possible red flags -- and cause for concern.

One reader asks:

I sometimes look after a friend's three year old. I have worked with a few autistic children that were age 3 or older when I was preschool teacher's aid. I see some similarities in him that I saw in a couple of them. I believe that if he doesn't have early signs of PDD that he has some significant delays at least. Do you have any advice? Mom would be hard to talk to, but I know early intervention is important.
What's your take on this? Is it appropriate to say something to a parent of a child who may be at risk of autism? If so -- what should you say, and how should you say it?
January 2, 2007 at 4:17 pm
(1) sandy says:

I would say no, never directly tell a parent you think their child may have autism unless you’re a person who could professionally do so. a non- professional day care provider told me what she thought back in the early years, and I took it very hard. I didn’t feel she had the right to make diagnostic assumptions, that’s not what I hired her for. I hated her for many years for speaking up, I still feel no gratefulness that she did speak up, and I never jumped to investigate autism even though I seen what she was talking about within my child. I knew there was something wrong with my son for a very long time, but it makes a great big denial moment when someone says it :)
the person who first dares to tell another parent that the child is showing signs of autism better hold on tight. most times that person ends up the barer of doom news, the person who forever changed their lives…. (we at that point cant focus on autism, but only focus on who dared to say it) parents go through denial and a lot of their anger ends up towards the person who ‘butts’ in a life we thought as normal.

send home printed information is what I always suggest, to all families. you never know if a parent has a family member they question. this way the info isn’t directly targeted to one child or parent, and it allows the parent to read it on their own, than have confrontation out of the blue. although studies show EI is best, I have met many parents whose children started out late and has progressed well. there is no real proof that at any age, a child cant benefit from interventions. there is no real known “window of opportunity” for interventions. on the flip side, many kids who had very early on EI did not progress well. all kids are different.
good luck

January 2, 2007 at 4:59 pm
(2) Sandy says:

I also wanted to add that when one see’s a child with delays or autism-like behaviors, doesn’t always mean it’s autism related disorder’s. there are many other disorder’s that share the same signs as autism. it’s always a good idea never to pin point what one might think is the cause, unless the person is a doctor :) the better idea than to speak of what you observe in this child ‘compared’ to children you have worked with, is just to talk about concerns in general w/o speaking of PDD, autism or other children. you can suggest a screening done by the school district. most times during those screenings, if the school finds reason for concern, they will share that with the parent.

January 4, 2007 at 2:01 pm
(3) Norway Mom says:

Although my son’s preschool teacher didn’t know about autism, she always had something vague she was concerned about or negative about. Never anything positive. She also had all the answers — my son would be “fixed” if we just stopped being a bilingual family. I always dreaded talking to her.

I agree with the others that it’s best to avoid making a diagnosis, but if you decide to share your observations I recommend including positive feedback and conveying clearly that you like the child. I also would avoid saying stuff like “your child always” or “your child never”, but instead try to start a dialogue about a specific incident you’ve observed. You don’t have all the answers, not having seen this child in other contexts. The parent doesn’t always have the whole picture either. In my case, my son was firstborn and I didn’t have anyone to compare him to, and I mostly saw him in the calm, comforting home environment, so his preschool teacher had a different and valuable perspective, if only she had been more specific and upbeat, and didn’t act like she had all the answers.

January 4, 2007 at 8:19 pm
(4) elizabeth says:

My son best friend has aspberger (spelling incorrect) and plays with two other boys (brothers) when the parents’ group meets. The boys’ parents say they see similarities in my son and simply suggested that I request the school’s evaluation. They say the school does not like to do all the tests but I have the right to request all of the tests. I know I have questions and this seem a nice way to tell me where to go for answers and of my rights.

January 5, 2007 at 12:06 pm
(5) Jennifer says:

It drives me crazy when people get so offended. These are the same people that, once their child is diagnosed, they are bound and determined to “cure” the kid because “not MY child!” instead of accepting that autism involves a differently wired brain that you cannot cure, only redirect through EI and continued education. I noticed problems in my son (now 4, PDD-NOS) when he was younger than a year old because a) I have the training and experience and b) I’m a stay-at-home mom. However, had I worked and he was in day care, I may not have noticed any issues. I would have been grateful and welcomed any concerns from the provider because they would have had my son’s best interests at heart. So I say yes, speak up, but do it in a respectful way. Just say that “I could be wrong, and please don’t be offended, but have you noticed that your child isn’t meeting this particular milestone? It doesn’t make sense because he’s so smart. Maybe you should check it out, just to be on the safe side.” Many parents do not have a lot of experience with early childhood and simply don’t know when there is a problem (my husband was one of these people, and he’s a brilliant engineer who now sees some asperger tendencies in himself). If your friend can’t accept your concern then maybe she’s not that good of a friend. Sorry for venting a bit.

January 5, 2007 at 12:51 pm
(6) Cynthia Whitfield says:

This question reminds me of an unfortunate situation that happened a few years ago. My typically developing son Logan met a boy through our homeschool group. He was noted to be quite eccentric, but he really liked Logan. He could be creative and fun, and Logan liked that about him. But he also had very strange, disturbing meltdowns. Once he started to throw a garbage can at my low-functioning son Jalen, diagnosed with autism and mental retardation, simply because Jalen inadvertently got in his way.

Another time he had a screaming, red-faced fit when Jalen picked up one of his toys (this boy was about eleven at the time). He rushed over and stood very close to Jalen berating him for a long time before I was able to redirect him. We were all very shaken, and Jalen was utterly confused and weeping.

These weren’t the only concerns. He had been “kicked out” of kindergarten according to his mom. Unlike me, she wasn’t homeschooling from choice — she felt she had to at that point.

He would say things like, “I want to go to a mental institution so the doctors can play whack-a-mole on my brain.” He also said he wanted to put the cat in the toilet to hear the sounds it would make as it drowned. He often didn’t notice waht was going on around him, or understand basic social courtesy such as listening sometimes, etc. He made lots of inappropriate comments.

I finally felt forced (after the screaming incident that really upset all of us, especially Jalen), to talk to his mother again. I had already expressed some concern a few years earlier which was brushed off, but she didn’t get angry, and things just sort of keep going on as before.

This time she was very defensive and said that people want to judge others just because they’re different. I held my ground this time because I was seriously concerned. I said I really thought he needed help (besides the behaviors, he also appeared unhappy often). I said that there are lots of options for help out there and I thought one or more would benefit him. He’d returned to school a couple of years earlier and was having trouble there as well. I thought the help would smooth out some of the school problems as well.

She chose to see it as a discipline problem. She would yell at him to “stop acting like that” when he would have a meltdown or do or say something inappropriate. I finally said he could no longer come to my house. It was very hard to say that, but I felt it was in the best interest of our family. Jalen was scared of him, and by now he was a tall, 120 pound 11-year-old. I wasn’t sure I could handle him if a meltdown took the wrong turn. At any rate, I thought it wasn’t healthy to have him around if his issues weren’t going to be addressed.

I’m positive I made the right decision, though it was tough.


January 7, 2007 at 4:04 am
(7) Norway Mom says:

I’ve read an estimate that only 30% of pediatricians routinely do developmental screenings (I wish I could find a proper study on this). Even if we don’t mention our suspicions about a particular child, we can tell parents that developmental screening tools exist for pediatricians, and recommend that they insist their pediatrician regularly use these tools during well-child visits.

In October 2006, the CDC started a campaign called “Learn the signs, act early” and we can refer parents, childcare providers, and health care professionals to their website:


The website includes an interactive developmental checklist that parents can fill out and discuss the printed results with their pediatrician.

January 8, 2007 at 12:54 am
(8) Another Mom :) says:

You know, I think it depends on what is said.

The first person who said something to me, I already had a bad relationship with.. she was my older daughter’s “educational specialist” at her homeschool-co-op/charter school. She was supercritical of everything I was doing with my daughter, so I ignored her, thinking it was another thing she was finding fault with…

The 2nd person who said something to me was my grandma… her advice was that I was a bad mom or letting my older daughter and the youngest be so close, as this was “warping” them, and that I needed to make the older one be mean to the younger to “make her talk normally”… uhm… again, I ignored her and stopped going around her because of it.

When I became concerned at the age of 3, my mom & other grandma told me how uncle so and so didn’t speak til he was 8 that my sister didn’t speak until she was 3, mygrandpa had a stutter, etc… all of them are fine now, so I am worrying for nothing…

Her pediatrician told me it was my fault for homeschooling the oldest. I aasked for a referral to the Early Childhood program at the preschool. They told me it was “only a speech thing” and that her cognitive and motor skills were fine… that we just needed to work on her speech… yet, she didn’t qualify for speech services…

This year, she is in kindergarten in a charter school. Another mom came up to me and started talking nicely to me. She started talking about the problems her child had, and asked me if she could ask me something personal… I told her to go ahead, knowing it would be about her speech… she acknowledged that she had noticed her speech and asked if we had asked the school about OT. I told her my daughter was in ST, but wasn’t sure what else I could do…

At this point, I began crying… not because she insulted me… but, because someone was trying to help me and give my daughter avenues, rather than telling me not to worry or insulting my parenting.

I think if someone starts out giving you their background, and what issues their child has… and then asks you questions its okay. She told me, “I just want to make sure you know what options you have available to you.”

That conversation really helped me, because I had a feeling something was not “right”, yet no one I talked to about it would help me.

January 8, 2007 at 1:01 am
(9) Another Mom :) says:

Oh… I also wanted to say, if I had met this other mom years ago, I believe my child would be better off. I would have began demanding tests/results… It was “too easy” to hope my child miraculously got better…
It’s hard to tell someone something may be developmentally “off” with their child… And, it might make them mad/upset, etc… but, it just might help their child.

January 8, 2007 at 11:08 am
(10) Autism Is Treatable says:

After my ped told me to wait to have EI come in and evaluate my son for his speech/language delay (he lost the words he had at 18 months)at our 2 yo well child visit, I knew I would have to take matters into my own hands. I am an early/elementary childhood educator and something happened to my child. I did not wait another year as he wanted me to.

Well, I wasn’t looking for autism when he was 2 yo (5+ years ago), but wanted to know what happened to him, loosing his speech, becoming more lethargic and having motor planning problems. We did finally get a PDD-NOS diagnosis after 2+ years in EI.

Knowing what I know now about ASDs, if I see some red flags with people I know or people asking me my opinion, I will share what I see and tell them that if I were them, to have EI come and evaluate the child… not for autism, but for all of the domains they screen for. EI cannot hurt your child (if they qualify) and it would only give your child a boost in the skills set they may be behind in. It is difficult when people approach you, because if you are honest, well, sometimes they don’t want to hear what you are saying. There was a mom who did ask me, didn’t like that I suggested and EI evaluation and did nothing. 5 years later (child is 8), she called me and told me she wished she had taken my advice. I told her not to beat herself up, because she is doing something now. You really need to feel people out and at least plant the seed. I tell people that I EI is the best way to help our children (regardless of diagnosis) and because we love our children, we will do whatever it takes.

Tradtional EI treatment PT, OT & ST helped my child greatly, but when we figured out his medical issues related to this… biomedical interventions gave us the big WOWs.

Autism is treatable and it is not about trying to change them. Those kiddos who are so severe have severe medical issiues that need to be addressed and it is unfortunate that traditional medical doctors don’t have a clue as to help our children.

I love this recent article attached below. My son is 7.9 yo in regular education with many friends. People & educators don’t even recognize that he has an ASD….when I show them the DVD I compiled… they are stunned at how he is today!

Just say it, and say it delicately… don’t diagnose unless you are qualified, but guide them to the proper channels because many people don’t know about EI. You do not need a dr referral, parents are the #1 referrals.

January 9, 2007 at 1:04 pm
(11) Babs says:

I have a 4yr boy who since birth has been a little quirky. There are signs that something is differently (PDD or AS). It has been an upward battle to find someone, ANYONE to help. Thank our lucky stars that we have a daycare provider who has helped us. If you can not trust you daycare provider to talk to you openly about you child, then why you would send your child there. Your daycare provider is like a parent. They are with our children and they watch them grow and the help them with developing. When my first son was learning to speak, he called his daycare provide mom. Some people thought that must be so heart wrenching, but I was happy that he had made that relationship. I feel strongly that you need to be at one with your daycare provider, it is basically another parent. My daycare provider is the only one who has helped us discover what is wrong with our son. The school district can not be bothered. The figure for the time being that he is not disruptive to anyone so we will just leave it alone. Iím so sick and tired off spending my day making phone call (while I work) to Drís trying to get evaluation for my son and getting rerouted. IM A PARANT ASKING FOR HELP DOES ANYONE CARE. Thank god someone make a suggestion and you should to, think about your child, donít you want the best for him. Iím so angry at parents, it not my kid crap. I think it is a form of child abuse. Read some books on what your child goes through on a day to day basis. The way his skin feels in clothes, the sounds around him being to loud, how do you think you child feels? No wonder these children are so frustrate and lash out, if you spend your day like that wouldnít you be mad. It does take a village to raise our children, you should grateful that someone cares enough. Letís help the children of our future.

January 11, 2007 at 5:18 pm
(12) angel says:

I am so glad I came across this article. I have been working around children who have learning disabilities for a long time, so for me it is easy to see if a child has an issue. However I have never had to tell a parent that I think there child might have it because they were already there at my work so I didnt have to tell them.

Until just a few weeks ago. My nephew had to have his hearing checked out because he has not been talking the way he should. The doctor wanted to make sure he didnt have any hearing lose because if he did, he might not be able to make out words to say them.

Well, the hearing test came back fine and the doctor said that they should have a specialist come out and watch over him for the day. But that it was up to them.

I knew right away that he wanted to have the specialist come out because he does do a few other things can can or CAN NOT associate with Autism but the only way to be sure was to have it checked out.

Now before I say any more my sister in-laws best friend is a nurse so she goes to her for all of her health issues but my sister in-law misunderstood her nurse friend who said that Autism can be detected in your 20 week ultra sound.

Well since I knew that she was misinformed and she was not going to have anyone come out to take a look. I had to say something.
Now for every person out there who does not think that this is not hard on the people delivering the news think again. I went over and over in my head if I should or not, but he is my nephew, I love him and his parents were missinformed and had no idea what Autism is so I made sure that before I went to her about this that I had done as much research as possible. I spoke with my boss, I watched power point presentations, read articles from doctors and so on. I had to make sure that I was going to give her 100% correct information before I did this.

I told her everything I knew. I also told her that it can or can not be associated with Autism at all and the only way to find out is to have it checked out.

well parents, I am now the most hated woman in my husbands family. I knew it was not going to be easy to hear, I knew it would hurt them but my concern was my nephew…..

I have to say to any parent, if you are not aware of signs that something might effect your child and someone who has knowledge about tells you, listen, they are not trying to hurt you. They are only trying to make it easier on you and the child to understand why all of these things are happening and you can if you have a diagnoses.

The issues back and forth about early intervention. It is not people saying well the earlier you find out the quicker to be cured, no it is because the sooner you find out and understand what is going on you will be a lot more patiant with your child and then you can work with them and help there frustrations.

I have read a lot of comments to say yes, say something and now I know I did the right thing.
Thank you

February 28, 2007 at 3:12 pm
(13) Michelle says:

I’m a preschool teacher and I have to tell parents of my concerns every year. Let me start by saying unless you have an actual degree to do so, NEVER diagnose another persons child. And NEVER let your concerns go quiet. Most issues benefit from immediate help. Early intervention is best no matter what the issue. I agree that you must be tactful. Do your research….pick up a book or an article to support your concerns, and better yet, have some helpful resources on hand such as the number to a local evaluation center. Good luck, this is such a difficult place to be. No one wants to hear there is anything wrong with their child.

May 8, 2007 at 12:50 pm
(14) Anne says:

I am a registered nurse and the grandmother of a 4 y.o boy who was dx’d with PDD-NOS at age 30 months. He is doing well now after almost 2 years of speech and OT. I was the one who pointed out to my daughter my concerns about the lack of speech, poor eye contact and other things that scared me very much as his grandmother, a pediatric nurse and a person who has been around kids all my life. I am very grateful that he is doing so well now, but very distressed at how his parents are doing. They are now in denial and saying that there never really was anything wrong with him and VERY mad at me for starting the entire thing. This is killing me and I don’t know how to handle this.

May 11, 2007 at 4:38 pm
(15) Maureen says:

I knew my son was ‘different’ from quite early on – maybe 2-3 years (not early at all now I know as far as EI is concerned)but he just seemed like a quirkly little character who was very charming but couldn’t seem to relate to other children and got ‘picked on’ a lot. He did have delayed speech development and saw a speech therapist for a couple of years but I never really got any feedback. When he was 5 his teacher said she thought he might be a gifted child – some months later she was worried but not sure why. For the next 4 years each teacher had concerns but no-one knew why. At age 9 the same teacher who thought he was gifted, called me in for a chat, and very hesitantly she asked me if I had heard of Aspergers. Actually I had, just the previous week my son’s uncle had sent me a newspaper cutting about Aspergers saying that it reminded him on my son. I was obviously very upset but didn’t for one second blame either of the messengers. It’s a delicate situation, but if you truly think a child has a problem find a way to tell the parent. I thought autism was a total disconnection from the world until I started reading up on it – I never considered it a reason for my son’s unusual behaviour. He’s 12 now and it’s only now that he is starting to receive proper help – how I wish it could have been years ago. Be careful, be kind but if you have a concern VOICE IT tactfully – and then be there to help pick up the pieces.

September 18, 2007 at 7:56 pm
(16) christy says:

Can someone please help me???? I am a daycare provider for four two year old girls. One of them is very different from the others. She ALWAYS cries, she does not listen, (example- I will say get on the couch so I can change your diaper… she will just sit there and look at me or stand by the couch and not do it.) or I will say come on everyone lets go and have lunch, come to the kitchen. She will be the only one that will not come. I will have to physically go and get her or one of the other kids will.
She repeats me when I say something but really has no vocabulary of her own.
When another baby goes and sits by her she cries forever. I will tell her not to do something a million times and yet she still does it. I know that is somewhat normal in toddlers, but it is always with her.
She has got into her poopy diaper numerous times while napping. She will have poop everywhere, her hands were covered in them last week, she shook her hands the whole time I was bathing her just standing there.
I just find her actions or lack thereof weird.
If someone thinks this could be autism please voice your opinion. Maybe it isn’t. I am just a women and a mother who cares for her. I would not want to ever say anything to her mom, for the reasons that some of you have mentioned.
Thanks for your help…..

February 1, 2008 at 9:44 am
(17) ann says:

i have the same problem please some out there commnt

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