How high intelligence can delay a diagnosis of autism and how even later interventions can help.
When Connor Samsky was just 2 years old he’d already taught himself to read. His parents, Brett and Louise Samsky, knew that was remarkable. However, along with this extraordinary ability they noticed other signs that Connor wasn’t developing typically. For example, instead of forming his own speech Connor would echo back the things his mother and father said to him. He also would line up his toys and he had trouble keeping eye contact.
“Because he was a child of high intelligence, I realize now that I overlooked some things,” said Louise. “He’s our only child, so I didn’t have a way to compare his behavior to that of other children. And, at the time—about 12 years ago—there wasn’t anywhere close to the amount of autism awareness that there is today.”
Finding support from specialists
Even so, the Samskys took Connor to a few different pediatricians. But they couldn’t find one who would take their concerns seriously. Either due to lack of awareness or discomfort with diagnosing the problem, the practitioners they consulted were unable to provide the Samskys with any help for Connor. It took a call from one of Connor’s preschool teachers to validate what the Samskys knew all along. The teacher explained that the school had some concerns because Connor wouldn’t respond to teachers when they called his name.
“That was a turning point for us. At that point we knew we had to get him in to see a specialist. That’s when I reached out to Marcus Autism Center and made an appointment for him to be evaluated. I’m very grateful to that preschool teacher. That was a hard phone call for her to make, but it changed the direction of Connor’s life,” said Louise.
At the time, a developmental pediatrician at Marcus Autism Center diagnosed Connor with Asperger’s syndrome—a diagnosis that does not exist today. All autism-related diagnoses now fall somewhere on what doctors call the autism spectrum, and people who fall on the spectrum are diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The relief of a diagnosis
When Connor was diagnosed, Louise had never heard of Asperger’s syndrome, but the diagnosis came as a relief for the Samskys because it meant Connor could get the treatment he needed. He began working with a speech-language pathologist at Marcus Autism Center. The Samskys also did a lot of practice at home with Connor, and he had a school facilitator. From age 3 to age 10, Connor received some sort of therapy every day, including speech and occupational therapies.
“Most children have to be taught to do certain things. Most children have to be taught how to read. Connor didn’t need someone to teach him that, but he did need someone to teach him how to communicate with others and how to have relationships.”
The importance of early intervention
Louise and Brett are adamant that early intervention made a huge impact on Connor’s life. Today, at 16, Connor is an independent teenager who does his own laundry and takes Uber to get around town. He loves writing and history, speaks Spanish, and is looking forward to going to college. The Samskys credit Connor’s early diagnosis and intervention with his success and independence.
“I believe early intervention changes a child’s destiny,” said Louise. “It’s become a mission of ours—supporting autism research and early intervention. We’ve started a program at a group of preschools that supports screening for early intervention. Every day that a child who needs help is not getting it is a day he or she’s getting behind. Marcus Autism Center is doing so much on this front. They treat children from all walks of life and with different socioeconomic backgrounds. People come from all over to seek their care; it’s remarkable what they’re doing.”
When patient families become donor families
The Samskys have been a Marcus Autism Center patient family, but they are also donors to the organization. Promoting the cause of funding ASD research and early intervention is a cause that has become important work for the Samsky family. “Every individual has causes that are important to them, but what’s striking to us is the statistic that one in 59 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder. Our children will be the adults in our society soon, and it’s critical to help them early on so that they can be productive, independent adults,” said Louise.