Sifting through the US CDC’s official diagnostic criteria for autism ~ Part C: Symptoms…in early development

Today, I’ll continue with my series of posts on how the US CDC criteria appear to apply to someone in real life (using myself as one example).

Before I begin, I want to say that I realize that these (this series) aren’t the most interesting of posts, nor are they likely to be applicable to or relatable by a broad audience.  But I still think they’re important.  Of course, they’re important for me because they apply to me; but they also may turn out to be important to someone else seeking what little information they can find about this topic and maybe, just maybe, someday they might give someone else a springboard off of which to make a crucial life-changing jump.

The posts in the rest of this series will likely be shorter, as the criteria themselves are more brief.  We’ll see. 🙂

As mentioned before, in order to be formally diagnosed as a member of the autism spectrum, certain specific criteria must apply to a person(‘s life).  But (as also mentioned before), deciphering that academically-worded criteria and attempting to determine what it might look like in an Aspergian/autistic adult in real life gets…tricky.

Other firsthand personal accounts do exist out there, but from what I’ve been able to find so far, there aren’t as many as I might’ve assumed/hoped (yet).  So, this post series attempts to illustrate one example.  But indeed, it’s just one example, and there’s as much variation among people on the autism spectrum as there is among the population off the spectrum.  I hope that every willing-and-able Aspergian/autistic person will tell their story, too. 🙂

OK, having covered Parts A and B in previous posts, I’ll plunge in to Part C of the US CDC’s official diagnostic criteria for the autism spectrum…

The CDC’s website states: “C: Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).”

To hear my mom reminisce, I’m roughly 100% positive that the “symptoms” were present early on.  I’m not entirely sure exactly what they mean by “early developmental period”; I’m pretty certain they don’t mean “in utero”, of course, but how “early” are we talking here?  A pediatric specialist might be quite familiar with the exact timeframe; for the rest of us, however, it appears to be left open for interpretation, which may or may not tend toward the subjective.  Given previous versions of autistic diagnostic criteria that specified 30 months or 2.5 years, that’s the standpoint from which I’ll ultimately operate from here on, too.

My development wasn’t exactly “normal”, but didn’t deviate from “the norm” so much that it was noticeable to a conventional pediatrician (and even if it had been, we were operating on the woefully-primitive DSM-III back then, which, although by then had separated autism from schizophrenia, was still quite in its infancy in terms of  accurately characterizing autism, and diagnosis remained remarkably rare).

Apparently, certain aspects of my development were….memorable.  It helps that my mother has always been pretty forthcoming with details.  These third-party details are useful in that they add form to my hazy-but-existent memories.

I was a tough baby (and toddler) to feed; feeding rituals often took an hour or more, and they usually resulted in the parent in question ending up covered in baby-food-spray (they’d successfully get a spoonful into my mouth, only for me to immediately spit it back out into the air at them.  Whoops…).

As I grew, food particularity became increasingly obvious; there are foods I simply would not eat (could not handle?)  These included steak (too dry, too tough), white chicken breast (also too dry and tough), oranges (too sour), mashed potatoes (a surefire way to set off my gag reflex!), cottage cheese (another gag reflex candidate), refried beans (three cheers for that gag reflex), tuna fish (yuck!), sausage (yuck, too), green grapes (too gamey), peas (also too gamey), lima beans (are you kidding??), and so on.  I ate oatmeal or applesauce in the morning, peanut butter and jelly or honey sandwich for lunch, and chicken leg/beef/spaghetti/lasagna/chicken stir-fry/etc with corn/green beans/carrots for dinner.

I also ate extremely slowly.  I now wonder if it had something to do with that overactive gag reflex, and perhaps in instinctual response to that, I may have needed to take smaller bites in order to avoid setting off that reflex?  That’s one possible theory.  Well hell, it sounds good. (Lol)

Putting things in my mouth?  Not happening.  Although this is a near-universal, supposedly-instinctual method through which babies and toddlers “sample” (and become familiar with) the world around them, apparently I operated in stark contrast to that: I never put any objects into my mouth.  (That probably explains the challenges with feeding.  It also adds a little more “evidence” to the “overactive gag reflex theory”.)  It turns out that this orally-mediated environmental “sampling” wasn’t necessary for my development; I became (all-too-)familiar with the world around me just fine. 🙂

Sleep was another point of contention (as is often the case among the Aspie/autistic people I’ve come to know); I never wanted to take naps, for fear that I might miss out on something (what action I could possibly miss out on at one-to-two years old, I will never know, but my mom’s recall does coincide with my own memories, so it’s not like I don’t believe her; I’m poking fun more at myself).  My parents had a hard time even getting me to bed at night.  My mom has a picture taken from my bedroom doorway, of me at some point between 18 months and 2 years old, standing up in my crib, looking out my bedroom window, with the window shade resting on my back, so that all you could see of me was my little butt, sticking out from under a window shade (lol).  The moon was full; I know this because although it couldn’t have been caught in the picture (the pulled-down window shades were in the way)…I remember it fully.  It was pretty high up in the sky, too, which puts the time around midnight, give or take.

When my parents really wanted me to get to sleep at a decent hour, they’d take me–as an infant–in the car and drive around until I fell asleep.  Apparently, it worked.  But it might have worked too well; they ended up having to do that pretty often.

I was a pretty decent systemizer right out the gate; my mom marveled at how she never had to ask me to clean my room; apparently, I had that skill down pat on my own.  (At least, for a while; my, how things can change…)

I’ve also collected things for as long as I can remember; rainbows, feathers, and books were among my earliest collections (all by the time I was three to four), followed by rocks about a year or two later.

Social awkwardness was present from the moment I started Montessori school when I was three.  I remember a kid named Isaac being pretty nice, but there was one girl in particular (Holly) with whom I did not get along.  Generally, I preferred to play alone, apart and away from anyone else, because I learned early on that I bewildered and irritated the few other kids who would play with me, by being too bossy and organizational, and not “thinking of scenarios”.

For example, I didn’t mind building something with Tinkertoys, but once it had been built, I didn’t see the need to play with it further (what is termed as “imaginative play”); to me, that just seemed like overkill.  Also, during play, one of my Tinkertoys “creations” could fall apart and I would just have to put it back together again.  Other kids didn’t seem to care about that; they just wanted to build things so that they could play with them, whereas for me, building them WAS the play itself; I was fascinated by how all the pieces fit together and united to create a particular concept that could be transformed with the change of any single piece.  I liked building the “perfect” creations.  Even at three, four, five years old, I saw no need to enact some pointless vignette once it was built.  The only time a “creation” would get taken apart is if I didn’t want it to exist anymore, or I wanted to build something else.  (My Lego towns, once built, remained prized permanent fixtures, and hell hath no fury like a rigid little Aspie (me) whose Lego town had been wrecked or tampered with in some way.)

Knee-high socks must be put on straight; if the seams are crooked or twisted in any way, this resulted in screaming until they were properly straightened to my satisfaction.  But that was only one source of extreme, irrational irritability; there were others, such as when a new babysitter came into my life, or I started a new school with a different schedule, or I witnessed another child having a loud temper tantrum nearby in the grocery store, etc.

I missed a couple of verbal milestones, but not so much so that it became a cause for concern.  My mom says that I didn’t talk (at all?) until I was two, and if that’s the case, then I missed that “single-word” utterance benchmark that’s “supposed to” occur around one year of age.  But apparently I made up for “lost time”, because when I did start talking, the verbal ability was actually that of someone beyond my age.  Kind of a yin-yang situation.

I was very particular about “sameness”, too.  According to me (my “rules”) my mom or my dad could drive, if they were the only parent there.  But if mom and dad were both there, my dad had to drive–not my mom.  I remember sitting in the back, with my mom in the driver’s seat and my dad in the passenger side, and I was tapping her shoulder from behind, repeating, “mom…don’t drive”.  I kind of giggle when I look back on that.

There are probably many more examples of how various symptoms and traits had been present early on in childhood/development, but I wouldn’t blame you if you were asleep already, so I’ll stop there, and switch gears (a little)…

(To be continued… Next up: Masking/Acting)


(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)


  1. I’m too old for even infantile autism. It was childhood schizophrenia as the only option when I was little and that obviously didn’t fit. Definite signs of these early on, though. Even had psychiatric intervention because of my extreme inability to handle change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing this! When I talked with my mom just this weekend, she mentioned that a lot of my traits started to show when I started kindergarten (at age 5, in 1982). Back then, we had just come off a 3-month stint on Canadian fairgrounds, my sister had just been born (literally within weeks–I was no longer an only child), and this was my first exposure to everyday school (my Montessori school before that had only been every other day). Too many too-big changes at once. So absolutely, I know what you mean 😊😊

      And of course, they were using the DSM-III (first edition, before the 1987 revision), in which the term “Infantile autism” was still in use, and since I wasn’t an infant and autism was still considered “rare”, I slipped through, right along with you ❤️


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