When he turned 2, Steven Hilfiker stood quietly staring at everyone who gathered around his birthday cake.
He showed the same confused look he had a year before at his first birthday party.
She called her pediatrician to schedule vision and hearing tests for him, but that same day she caught on TV an “Oprah” episode about autism and her maternal instinct kicked in.
“I knew immediately, that’s what we were dealing with,” Sara Hilfiker said.
The assessment took four hours to complete. At 2 years, 5 months old, Steven Hilfiker, now 6, was diagnosed in the autism spectrum.
“He was diagnosed in November, and it took me until about January to know that this wasn’t going to go away unless I did something to help him,” Sara Hilfiker said.
Autism is comprised of a spectrum of neurological disorders that affect the brain and the normal development of a child. The three main characteristics of people diagnosed with autism are language and social setbacks, and repetitive behaviors.
Autism affects one in 110 children and it is more common in boys, with one in 70 boys affected. The cause is still unknown.
Most of children diagnosed in the autism spectrum are late in all the important milestones of their development.
Those milestones exist for a reason, Sara Hilfiker said. She urges parents to look at them as a way to monitor their children’s health.
Steven Hilfiker was delayed in all his milestones. He didn’t walk until he was 18 months old, he was non-verbal until a few months after he was diagnosed, he would have transitional fits like getting from one place to another, he didn’t make eye contact and he didn’t make friends easily.
Not everyone in the autism spectrum is affected on the same level. The most common autism spectrum disorders are: autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS.)
When children are diagnosed with Asperger’s, they usually have social issues, but they do not have language barriers. PDD-NOS is the mildest of the diagnoses, usually meaning that children have certain characteristics, but they do not fully meet the criteria to get an autism or Asperger’s diagnosis.
Children with autism spectrum diagnosis have the same abilities as other children, only it is more difficult for them to comprehend situations, experts say.
Every single situation for them is like putting a puzzle together. It takes a little more out of them to understand a simple command; that’s why the symbol of the disorder is a puzzle piece.
Most researchers and most parents of children in the autism spectrum agree that early intervention is key to get children the help they need.
“I just knew that time was of essence.” Sara Hilfiker said.