A mom in her late 30s with three children didn't know what was wrong with her until she noticed her second child's delayed development. Following some tests, Jen Malia found out that she was on the autism spectrum on the same day she learned of her daughter's autism diagnosis.
Malia relayed that she grew up with different experiences as her brother and always felt the odd one out in school and her family. She was a timid child who did not have many friends and had her quirks that didn't seem significant at that time.
"I knew that there were some things that were more difficult for me," she relayed. "And I desperately wanted a name for whatever it was that made me different."
However, Malia never got tested as a child despite that nagging feeling. When she had Holly, Malia said she started noticing some meltdowns that were beyond normal for toddlers. A preliminary test with her daughter's pediatrician didn't provide enough conclusion to indicate that Holly was on the autism spectrum. The family was referred to a clinical psychologist who would change their lives.
All Three Kids in the Spectrum
After a series of consultations with the clinical psychologist, Malia finally got the confirmation that she and Holly were on the spectrum. The expert explained that girls on the spectrum are often overlooked because they may mask the symptoms and "have better eye contact" than boys.
Years of studies have shown that biological, social, and personal factors prevent or slow down autism development in female patients. According to one expert in Scientific American, common indicators of autism "seem to only be true for boys," and they have been looking into more patients to study the brain of girls with autism, boys with autism, and typical boys and girls.
After getting her diagnosis, Malia said that she now understands how she assessed and did certain things. It made it easier to accept and embrace her reality.
Then, she also had her two other kids tested. Nick, her youngest, was confirmed with ASD at two years old, a year after Holly. Noelle, her eldest, was diagnosed with ASD, ADHD or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Two of her kids are undergoing behavioral and physical therapy every week.
Advocating For New Approach to Autism
Malia, who works as a professor at the Norfolk State University and has written books about autism, has been advocating to change the approach to dealing with the disorder. She agrees with author Eric Garcia, who noted that autism patients are not broken and that experts should stop focusing on finding a cure for autism spectrum disorder.
Instead, conversations about the spectrum should include how to help people with autism navigate their life, especially for autistic adults. This will give them better chances of succeeding in school, learning to live independently, and understanding their difficulties in relationships or jobs.
"Much more than a diagnosis, though, autism is an integral part of my identity, and I'm raising my kids to be proud of their autistic identity, too," the mother said.
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