If you've ever wondered whether or not your child has special needs this post has been written with you in mind.

As a student speech and language therapist I needed to learn about normal child development and the go to text was (and still is) Mary Sheridan's From Birth to Five years: Children's Developmental Progress. The book covers the myriad of steps that take place in the first five years of a child's life, with sections on posture and large movements, vision and fine movements, hearing and speech, and social behaviour and play. The latest edition also gives advice on when to seek additional help if steps are not reached within the expected time frame.

If you enter parenthood without having had much experience about when and how children develop you can end up playing the "compare your own child with other children" game, which may leave you feeling relieved or worried depending on how the comparisons go. It only takes one exceedingly verbal child or one toddler who can hop on each foot to make you look at your own offspring and wonder why they can't do these things yet. There is, of course, a wide variation of normal development and so it's useful to have a reference book like the one by Mary Sheridan to find out whether or not you are right to be concerned about your own child.

Sometimes family members can try to help alleviate concerns by recounting various family tales of relatives who were slow to walk or talk as youngsters. However, even if Great Uncle Herbert started talking at age five in full sentences, it doesn't guarantee that your own child will follow in his footsteps.

Getting help early is key.

Our son, Edward, met most of his developmental milestones on time and although we'd had hunches that there was something a bit different about him it was only once he'd entered school that his differences became more obvious. I was often surprised by the things Edward did when he was little and so I kept a diary (an actual paper and pen diary - how old retro am I!) detailing lots of little snippets of information.

(I'm very glad I did because most of them are finding their way into my blog!)

More importantly these notes proved to be very useful when we did end up getting Edward assessed for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was eight years old. The notes I'd made meant that I was able to give accurate information about his sleep, play, language and social skills from his early years onwards.

Edward has a high IQ. He wasn't quick off the mark when it came to reading but he'd pretty much got the hang of it by the age of seven. From an educational point of view he gave no cause for concern. I knew though that he was really struggling socially, had no friends in his class, was often saying inappropriate things, was easily upset or cross, and spent a huge amount of time thinking and talking about dinosaurs. He had started to notice that he was socially failing and I'll never forget him saying, "I'm not like the other children."

One day, after seeing Edward complete a memory assessment for a PhD student's research project, everything changed. I've written about this is in a post on my blog called Wired Differently and, to cut a long story short, Edward performed like an autistic child on the memory tests. This was the first concrete evidence I'd had to support my hunches that my son might be on the autistic spectrum. After that I bought a book by Tony Atwood called Asperger's Syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals. It was as if I was reading a book which had been written specifically about my son!

That gave me the confidence I needed to seek an ASD assessment. I had a bit of a job persuading the GP to refer Edward for an assessment (which I've written about in a post called Unexpected Battle) but after that we were in the system and, 18 months later, after seeing a psychologist, speech and language therapist and a paediatrician, Edward was given a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome.

If you are a parent of a child who is like my son, do not wait for school staff to suggest an autism assessment. If your child is meeting educational targets then the teacher may not have any concerns about them. The difficulties your child has may be more apparent during unstructured parts of the school day or when they are at home with you. To this day I do not know if any of Edward's teachers would have recommended an autism assessment, even though they gave me their full support when I told them I was seeking one.

Having a diagnosis has been a huge help. It has helped us advocate for Edward so that reasonable adjustments can be made at school to make life run more smoothly for everyone. It has helped family and friends to have more patience and be more forgiving when Edward gets overly pedantic or says something which could be taken the wrong way, but perhaps most importantly of all, it's given Edward more understanding, awareness and self-acceptance.

I've used this quote of Edward's before but it seems apt to include it again here. He wrote it five years after his diagnosis when he was 13 years old.

“I have a condition called autism. It affects my behaviour, and makes me less social but more focused. Most people see autism as a problem but I see it as a feature of my personality. If there was a cure I would not take it…. because it would not be me, but a less interesting version of me without my best and worst features.”

Lynne is a Speech and Language Therapist and a mother to 4 children. Her eldest son is on the Autistic Spectrum. Lynne has a blog called A Blog About Raising My Autistic Son full of funny tales of family life dotted with little nuggets of wisdom, that was recently nominated for a Bloody Awesome Parents Award (BAPS).