Dr. Mike,

We recently had a meeting with our son’s preschool teacher who told my husband and I that she thinks our son is autistic.  She said that our son has social problems and anxiety, and that he becomes “out of control” when excited.  She said that he has idiosyncrasies like walking on his toes and going over his favorite movie lines with other kids in class, and that these behaviors are typical behaviors of autistic children.  She recommended that our son participate in a neuropsychological evaluation.  While my husband and I see some of the things our son’s teacher is seeing, we do not see him as being autistic.  He’s just shy and immature for his age, and we’re offended by what was said.  We’re thinking about filing a formal complaint with LCPS against the teacher, or getting our son transferred.  Teachers are not qualified to diagnose children with medical or mental health conditions, and we’re worried that she is treating him differently.  We appreciated your guidance. ~ Upset in Loudoun

Dear Upset,

You’re correct that school teachers are not trained or credentialed to diagnose autism; and I agree with you that your son’s teacher shouldn’t have told you that your son may be autistic.  It’s appropriate for your son’s teacher to share her concerns with you, and to recommend a private evaluation to better understand what is happening – and how to support him.  She’s correct that a neuropsychological evaluation – standardized and objective developmental testing – can be very helpful.  To your point, your son may simply be shy and immature, and things may balance out for him naturally in time.  To her point, his problems may be more significant, and early interventions could be warranted.  A neuropsychological evaluation will serve to identify problems and accurate diagnoses.

I advise that you “Don’t shoot the messenger,” per the saying.  Preschool teacher observations and opinions are very important.  Your son’s teacher is spending a good part of every weekday engaging him in unstructured and structured social and learning activities.  If your son is not learning or behaving in a typical manner compared to his same aged peers, her input is invaluable.

If you decide to have your son evaluated by a neuropsychologist, that professional will rely on standardized and objective testing measures for diagnoses, will also involve your son’s teacher and you as parents to thoroughly assess your son’s needs.


Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice. He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America and several other outlets. He can be reached at 703-723-2999, and is located at 44095 Pipeline Plaza, Suite 240, Ashburn.