By Ricki Rusting
Every morning, Avigael Wodinsky sets a timer to keep her 12-year-old son, Naftali, on track while he gets dressed for school. “Otherwise,” she says, “he’ll find 57 other things to do on the way to the bathroom.”
Wodinsky says she knew something was different about Naftali from the time he was born, long before his autism diagnosis at 15 months. He lagged behind his twin sister in hitting developmental milestones, and he seemed distant. “When he was an infant and he was feeding, he wouldn’t cry if you took the bottle away from him,” she says. He often sat facing the corner, turning the pages of a picture book over and over again. Although he has above-average intelligence, he did not speak much until he was 4, and even then his speech was often ‘scripted:’ He would repeat phrases and sentences he had heard on television.
Naftali’s trouble with maintaining focus became apparent in preschool—and problematic in kindergarten. He would stare out the window or wander around the classroom. “He was doing everything except what he was supposed to be doing,” Wodinsky recalls. At first, his psychiatrist credited these behaviors to his autism and recommended he drink coffee for its mild stimulant effect. The psychiatrist also suggested anxiety drugs. Neither treatment helped. A doctor then prescribed a series of drugs used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), even though Naftali’s hyperactivity was still considered a part of his autism; those medications also failed or caused intolerable side effects.
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