Four-year-old Alyssa Grube takes great delight in blowing up balloons and watching them fly. But her joy is as fleeting as the air in her new toy.
Is this just a tired little girl in need of a nap or is it a sign of something more ... autism?
Alyssa quickly recovers from her outburst and continues to take part in an evaluation with Dr. Carola Meyer that will provide answers.
"So we see for one, how does the child play with toys, do they use imaginary play?" said Dr. Meyer, Clinical Psychologist at Seattle Children's Hospital.
"So that's just one specific part, but overall," said Dr. Meyer. "You look for what's the language level like of the child. Do they use language flexibly?"
Delayed language, lack of interest in interacting with others and repetitive play are symptoms of autism. But it takes expert assessment before a diagnosis can be made.
At home, mom and dad, Edward and Molly, noticed lapses in their daughter's development. Now they look for direction.
"We just don't know how to help her right now," said Molly. "I wish we had the results today."
"If we get like a game plan we could follow, that game plan to help," said Edward.
"So just the waiting is killing me," said Molly.
A week later, Molly, Edward and Alyssa's aunt return to Seattle Children's Autism Center to find out what dr. Meyer's testing reveals about their daughter.
"It shows us she has good, good problem solving skills when words are not involved," said Dr. Meyer.
Dr. Meyer took into consideration Alyssa's communication and social skills as well as any unusual behaviors to reach the following conclusion.
"So in Alyssa's case I feel that she has developmental differences in all of those three areas we talk about, communication, social interactions and her presence of unusual behaviors. So I feel she meets a diagnosis of autism," said Dr. Meyer. "And I feel that Alyssa for one because of her many strengths and the kinds of developmental differences she has is more to the mild end of the spectrum."
The autism spectrum is broad and so is the range of reactions following a diagnosis like this.
The Grubes return home unable to express their emotions in one word.
"What's the word? Challenging, relief, challenging, heartbreaking, joyous," said Molly.
"Well, it made me stronger because now I understand I can't control what happens, but I can control what to do to make it better," said Edward.