Transcript: The Importance of Diagnosing Autism & Other Conditions Early in Infant Development

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called The Importance of Diagnosing Autism & Other Conditions Early in Infant Development and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Helen Thompson: When it comes to the growth and development of your little one, I think it’s safe to say that most moms have a tendency to be oversensitive. We all have stories to relate of parents we know or have seen being hugely overprotective. However, no one knows your little one, like you do. So it’s important to seek professional help if you feel something is amiss with their natural development. Always trust that gut feeling!

The earlier conditions such as ADHD and autism are diagnosed the better. So if in doubt, get onto it. This week’s guest Theresa Inman knows all about this because she works with children from birth to three years of age. She helps identify whether they have issues. She then provides strategies and help, in conjunction with an occupational therapist, which can help prevent things from escalating.

Theresa is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Infant Toddler Development Specialist and author of the book, How Can I Help My Child Communicate? So in this episode, you’ll hear Theresa and I talk about why it is important for early intervention and to get them diagnosed early during the crucial birth to age three window and not to delay this, what moms can look for that could indicate issues such as speech delays or sensory issues, possible signs that could point to autism.

And so much more…

Hi Theresa and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. I’m delighted to have you here and I’m looking forward to chatting with you about ways to help parents identify whether their little one has any developmental issues during that all important birth to three window. So can you start by telling us about what you do and your background?

Theresa Inman: Absolutely Helen and thank you so much for having me, I’m really honored to be here. So I am a board certified behavior analyst, which means I work primarily with children who have been diagnosed with autism or ADHD, just honestly, any developmental delay. Now, because it’s so limited in that most children don’t get diagnosed until after three, I decided to become an infant toddler developmental specialist, which means now I can work with children from birth to three.

So I can really help by providing some real strategies in that time, which could prevent things from escalating later on. Prevent any kind of, maybe symptoms of developmental delay, because there’s so much you can do within that time to help children overcome any struggles that they might have or potential struggle.

Helen Thompson: It’s interesting. I also teach infant massage and with infant massage, sometimes when I’m teaching moms, sometimes the baby wants to be touched, but sometimes you can sense that the baby just doesn’t want to be touched. We always ask permission when the baby wants to be touched, but sometimes you can sense that the baby just doesn’t want to be touched. They’re just not in that space to be touched and I’m wondering with what you do, how can you tell if a baby is in that space, if it’s got ADHD or autism or whatever it might be? How can you pick that up from a baby’s age?

Theresa Inman: Okay, so that’s why I became an infant toddler developmental specialist, because they can’t really tell when a baby is, at infancy. So usually they get diagnosed after three. Now there are some things though, some delays that you can see, maybe speech delay and when I say speech and language, so maybe the receptive or expressive language, there are delays.

Maybe they’re just not meeting milestones. So they’re not, turning, they’re not doing any of those things that you would expect. So it’s basically just helping children meet milestones. And once we work with them to meet those milestones, chances of problems are greatly reduced because we’ve addressed a lot of those deficiencies, those deficits early in life, to prevent something more challenging from occurring later on.

So we work with the speech delays, if there’s some any kind of sensory issues, I collaborate with and consult with occupational therapists, I consult with speech therapists, just so we can provide parents with a holistic treatment modality.

Helen Thompson: So if you go to an occupational therapist or a speech therapist, do you work together or how does it work?

Theresa Inman: Yes, we do work together. Weekly, I work with the children and the speech therapist or the occupational therapist we consult quarterly. So they would come in and say, okay, these are some things that I think, these are some needs, these are some areas that we need to address and they will model those things and talk about those things and that I would incorporate in my treatment as well.

Helen Thompson: Okay, so basically you’re saying from a young age, you can detect there’s something wrong. For instance, if they’re not, let’s say I’m just giving an example here, say at around about nine months they’re not crawling or they’re not beginning to stand up and things like that. You can detect there’s something there and you’d say to a parent look, I’m not sure that this is right. I’m going to get an occupational therapist or whatever it is, to come and have a look.

Theresa Inman: Yes, exactly.

Helen Thompson: So when you work with your parents and you’ve given them those cues and telling them those things, what’s the next step for you or what’s the next step for the parent?

Theresa Inman: So I work through what we call early steps here in Florida and they contact me and say Hey, we’ve got this student, this child, and they need help in this area. There’s a plan already written. So if the child needs help with, just whatever it is. So if it’s communication, we work on communication and we have tools that we use. And when I say tools, just strategies that we use, to help with communication. So I talk to parents. So if the deficit is communication, use a lot of words around your child. When your child babbles, respond to them conversationally. Have fun with your child, make it a great fun experience, because if it’s not fun, it’s not going to work, right?

Because, children learn through play and we do a lot. And sometimes it means having to do the same thing over and over and over again in a fun way to help the child acquire that skill.

Helen Thompson: You’re quite right that children learn through play and I think that is a key to everything because if you encourage your child to learn through play, then they’re going to learn things and have fun with it. And I think it’s really important to have fun with play as well, because otherwise it’s not fun for you and it’s not fun for the parent either.

Theresa Inman: Exactly, so when they see me, I mean, I come in honestly, literally on the floor, as soon as I get into a parent’s house, I’m on the floor with the child. Cause you have to meet them where they are, we have to be within their line of sight. They have to be able to see our faces because for holistic communication to happen, you want to have that facial, them to be able to see your facial expression, just so they can model what you see.

Cuz a lot of times, if we were just to just go in, what is a child seeing? Our knees or whatever it is. So when you’re on the floor with them, they can see your face, you can have fun with them.

Helen Thompson: So just a question. You said that, as soon as you go in and you get down and you communicate with the kids, which I think is very valuable because that’s how they learn. But during COVID, when you’ve had to wear masks and everything, that would’ve been a very interesting challenge because you wouldn’t be able to have the facial expressions.

Theresa Inman: Right. So during COVID it was more remote, so by Zoom and instructing the parents as to what to do. Because again, when I go into the home, that’s the goal. I model what I do for the parents. I model the strategies for parents, and then they’re the ones because, they live with their child and they show them what to do so that they can do it on a regular basis.

Cuz that’s the key. So, and I always want to start with telling parents that they are the expert on their child. Yes, I’m the expert when it comes to behavior and helping them teach their child skills, but they know their child more than I do. So it always has to be a collaborative, we have to work collaboratively in order to get the outcomes that we’re looking for.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think that’s important because somebody just going in there and saying, right, this is what’s wrong with your child. A lot of moms would think, well, what’s she talking about? I know my child, I know how they’re crawling or that they are beginning to at least to crawl or whatever and of course, some parents might not know what the milestones are either. I know roughly, because I teach baby massage, and I also have a childcare background, but a parent might not know what the milestones are. They might not know what stages their child does things. So they might not pick it up.

Theresa Inman: Exactly, but they will know though for the most part, that something is just not because, you know, we use our gut as parents course, our gut is our guidance for our child. So when you get that gut feeling that, hmm, just to quote a parent, something just doesn’t feel right. If something doesn’t feel right contact your pediatrician. Sadly, when you tell them what it is and explain it to them, they may still say, oh, you know, he’ll be fine, it’s a boy, this and that and I’ve heard that way too often. Get another opinion please, get a second, third, fourth opinion, because until you address this, it’s going to be a problem.

I had a client, we were talking about this and I said, yes, you know, parents know and he told me that there was a family that he met and at 14 months old, mom knew something just didn’t feel right and she went to person after person and they dismissed her. And when the child was four years old, they’re like, oh yeah, something just isn’t, they’re just not and I thought you’ve got to keep going because that’s four years that something, if something was done, cuz you know that birth to three window is very important, it’s crucial as you know, Helen. So if we can do more in that window and get better results then we would, if we wait past three.

Helen Thompson: Yeah I’ve noticed it a lot when I’ve worked in childcare, I’ve observed that kids aren’t quite, no, I’m not gonna say not quite right, but I’ve just noticed there’s something not quite right about their behavior or quite right about their development or whatever and I’ve often said that to parents and I’ve heard them saying exactly what you’ve just said, oh, they’re a boy, they’ll be alright. You know, you’ve gotta say it very delicately because I think you don’t want to tell the parent that they don’t know their child and I think as professionals, I think that’s a really important thing to support the parent as much as possible and say it in a very supportive way. Say, have you noticed that your child isn’t doing X, I think it’s a very fine line cuz as a parent, you’re not going to want to be told your child’s got autism or ADHD and I think you’ve gotta do it very delicately. Would you agree with that?

Theresa Inman: Oh, absolutely because too, when a parent hears that news, there’s some grieving that happens, right. The child that they expected, the child that they celebrated, they’re like, oh my gosh, that is not this child and you know, it takes some time to get used to the fact to come to terms with the fact that, okay, my child may have a diagnosis of. But usually in that birth to three window, the parents contact early steps and then I get involved. So usually they know before I do, right.

But they’re still going through that process. So I still get that, I walked into a home actually last week, I walked into a home and the parents had been going online and, do you think he has autism? And based on what I know, I said, listen, I’m not licensed, I can’t diagnose any child, however, based on what I’ve seen, cuz I’ve been working with children with autism for over 10 years now.

So I can tell whether or not they might have some of the markers for autism and I let them know, well, I don’t see anything. And based on what I know about autism, your child is doing this, that, this, that, and that does not fall under that umbrella. Your child may have a developmental delay, like a speech delay, or, just something that can be addressed.

Maybe they have some sensory issues, they need sensory integration. In which case I would consult with an occupational therapist to help give me tips for that, to address those issues.

Helen Thompson: Just out of curiosity, you said that you’ve worked with autism for 10 years. What are the markers that you’ve observed in the last 10 years? I know you’re not a specialist, but what are the markers that you pick up?

Theresa Inman: Repetitive behaviors, they may line things up, they may have visual stimulation. So we call them, they stem. So they focus on something or they hand flap. Children with autism often they have social you know, deficits as well. They don’t know how to socialize. Cause a lot of people say they don’t like to socialize. It’s not that they don’t like to, they just don’t know how. And when we’ve taught children to socialize, they actually enjoy interacting with other people. So, and eye contact, a lot of children with autism don’t make eye contact.

There’s a spectrum, so you can have different things. So one child with autism is going to look very different from another child who’s been diagnosed with autism, and that’s why they call it a spectrum cause no two children are alike, but the social skills deficits, like I said, a lot of children with autism don’t make eye contact, some may toe walk, like I said, they present very differently having that diagnosis. Some may have sensitivity to sound, they may have sensitivity to certain lighting.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, each child is an individual and they all learn individually. So, is there anything else you wanna add about what you do that you feel that we haven’t covered?

Theresa Inman: I want to say there is always hope and you can have better outcomes the earlier you get your child involved with intervention. So early intervention is key because the longer you wait, the worse it gets for you and your child. So do all the tests and if they find everything is in order then fine, at least now, you know, but it’s better to rule things out and to come out of your comfort zone and get the help that you need.

It means you get the test done, do all the things that are recommended so that you can rule out any diagnosis, because if you don’t and you wait and I’ve seen parents wait, the child is six, seven years old, and now we’re toilet training, we’re feeding them, we’re teaching them to dress themselves and these are things that could have been addressed when they were two, three years old and now we’re doing it at six, seven. So that becomes a real concern because it takes longer for them to learn at that age.

Now there’s a statistic that I wanted to share. The Koegel’s, they have a center in California, they looked at some children and what they found with early intervention between from birth to three. I think it’s either 85% or 95% of children, the ones who don’t talk, they will, with early intervention. After that, the numbers get significantly lower. So that birth to three window is so vital, in helping develop skills and to overcome the possible effects of diagnosis.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think early intervention is important because as I said, I come from a childcare background and I I’ve often picked things up and expressed it to parents and they’ve gone to see a specialist and they’ve said, Helen, thank you for bringing that to my attention, I didn’t realize. So, yes, I think that’s a really important aspect.

Theresa Inman: Parents don’t know what they don’t know. So there is no judgment here, but until you find out, get information, talk to people, talk to professionals and let them know what you’re experiencing with your child so they can give you some help.

Helen Thompson: Yeah that’s very valid and I’d also like to add that we’re not judging parents at all because every parent knows their child. We’re just giving them the tools to be able to support them and to discuss any issues that they may be having.

Theresa Inman: Absolutely. Yes.

Helen Thompson: So if anybody wanted to get in touch with you and find out more about what you do, how would they go about doing it?

Theresa Inman: So I have a podcast called Parenting With Confidence, so they can see me there. I have written a book.

Helen Thompson: How Can I Help My Child Communicate?

Theresa Inman: Yes and it’s available at I also have parenting videos on TikTok. So just small parenting videos on TikTok @0parentingbytes0, just to help parents, give them tips, on communication and skill development and people ask questions and based on those questions, I create videos.

Helen Thompson: Well, thank you. And I will put those details that you’ve given me in the show notes, so my listeners can click on them and find out more. So thank you Theresa for coming on and I really enjoyed talking to you. I actually learned a lot more about autism. Thank you for coming on to First Time Mum’s Chat it was a pleasure talking to you.

Theresa Inman: Thank you so much for inviting me.

Helen Thompson: Theresa certainly has a lot to offer parents with her experience and shared some great tips and insights. It certainly brought back many memories from my many years, working as a childcare educator. It can be so hard for parents to identify when there are problems and it is so important to deal with anything before they are three years old where possible.

I’ve included links to Theresa’s podcast, as well as her book and social media in the show notes, which can be accessed at