Dr. Emily Rastall

Welcome to Ask Dr. Emily, a new monthly feature on The Autism Blog! We often receive questions that we want to share with all our readers. To help with this, Dr. Emily Rastall, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, will share insights here, on the last Friday of each month, in a question and answer format. We welcome you to send us your questions and Dr. Rastall will do her best to answer them each month. Send your questions to [email protected]

Q: Is it common for children with autism to get pleasure out of watching things fall? I have a few red flags with my 2 year old, and one thing I am not sure about (mainly because it hasn’t be mentioned in any articles) is my child will spend forever picking up stones, bark, sand… dropping it just above eye level and watching it fall. Any suggestions??

A: One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder is what is called “stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech.” In addition, individuals diagnosed with autism often present with “highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus.” Most kids do enjoy learning about gravity and engage in some level of repetitive play/exploration. It is when those behaviors persist past when they are developmentally expected and to what severity they do so, that tells us whether these behaviors may meet criteria for “stereotyped/restricted interests or behaviors.” In addition, in order for an individual to meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder, many other symptoms must be present. If you have concerns regarding your child’s behaviors speak with your pediatrician. He or she may refer you to a specialist who can provide a comprehensive evaluation specifically aimed at assessing for autism spectrum disorder.

Q: My child was taken by cesarean section at 35 weeks because my doctor said the baby was breach and would not turn. Now my child is 9 and has autism. Does my child being taken that early have anything to do with autism?

A: At present, the research literature does not indicate a clear cause for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That said, technically, to be considered “full term” a child is carried to 37 weeks or longer. It seems unlikely that, for an otherwise healthy infant, being born at 35 weeks alone would be a significant risk factor for a diagnosis of ASD. As a parent, it is normal to search for an explanation for your child’s disability. Some parents even wonder if something they did caused a disability. We still do not know what causes autism, but rest assured, you are not at fault.

Q: Do children with autism grow out of certain behaviors or keep them for life? My son loves fans and spinning things, washing machines especially, will this move on to something else?

A: The intensity and nature of stereotyped interests and behaviors wax and wane over the course of development. It is not uncommon for some or all behaviors and interests to persist into adulthood—some at the same level and intensity as when an individual was a child, and others less so. Given that each individual with autism spectrum is unique, we are not able to tell for sure which behaviors/interests (if any) will persist into adulthood. Only the future will tell.

Dr. Emily Rastall is a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, where she works to evaluate and treat children and families affected by autism spectrum disorder and related or co-morbid disorders. The information contained in this blog should not be used to replace the relationship that exists between you and your healthcare provider. Please contact your healthcare provider for specific medical advice and/or treatment recommendations.