Back when E. was in kindergarten, A. and I borrowed a DVD from the school district's autism team (not an unusual act). Three hours of Tony Attwood discussing Asperger's. Both of us found it riveting. And one thing I definitely have to give him is that it's possible to listen to him talk about the challenges posed and the work that needs to go into supporting Aspies and still come away feeling optimistic. He clearly appreciates Aspies' strengths and quirks and is one of the few NTs I've come across who really seems to get it.
A. has read even more of Attwood's work than I have at this point, and getting to hear him talk in person was a definite highlight of the conference we attended this summer.
As I mentioned before, J. was with us for the conference. A. and I had our spots on the far aisle, just a few tables in from the door. When he would fuss beyond being hungry, I would take him just out of the auditorium, catching as much as I could from the chairs on the other side of the door. I had both the stroller and sling, so we walked a lot too.
At one of the breaks, I was back in the auditorium with A. Attwood was striding out, trying, I'm sure, to get a few minutes downtime before continuing his presentation. But when he saw us off to the side passing J. back and forth between us, he came over and expressed his surprise to see the baby. He'd had no idea there was one in the crowd. I explained that we'd been in and out, depending on J.'s mood (and felt better knowing that he had not been disruptive). Attwood bent down a little and looked J. in the eyes for a few seconds, taking his measure, smiling, engaging him. He looked back at us and pronounced, "He's just fine. No autism here."
Now I get that this is not a formal evaluation and that we will have no recourse should we find ourselves with a diagnosis down the line, but really Attwood was giving weight to an opinion A. and I have already expressed: J. is neurotypical.
Some of our reasons are subtle and hard to pin down. It's been seven years since E. was this age, so the memories are not fresh. Yet while we did not have concerns at this point in E.'s life, we were able to recognize some of the earlier signs once we began reading about Asperger's.
It's not that E. did not make eye contact, but it wasn't his focus. J., on the other hand, craves our attention and draws it out of us by catching our eye. Whereas E. could spend a long time studying geometric patterns, J. will only look at them as long as there's no face or other interactive opportunity available.
There's a huge difference in how our two boys play(ed) at this age. E. has always loved toys with wheels. We would later find out that staring at spinning wheels is a common trait of kids on the spectrum. J. enjoys his buses, but generally propels them along so that he can pursue. He varies how he plays with his toys and explores them with all of his senses. Everything goes into his mouth or is used to bang into something else. We joke that his use of toys as tools illustrates the human link with the apes.
The differences extend to all of J.'s interactions with the world, his movement, his interests, the way he eats. I know that this is not a "Get out of jail free" card and that we have a high chance of some sensory issue and/or other quirks, but it's clear to us that J. is on a far different trajectory than E. ever was. It's not necessarily better--I have moments of wondering, "What am I going to do with an NT?"--just new ground.