Years ago HIV/AIDS was the "it" health news item. As consumers of media, we have moved on to the next epidemic: autism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 1 in 150 children have an autism spectrum disorder ( ASD). If Oprah has a show on it and there's a ribbon associated with it, then it must be worth paying attention to.

The hyperawareness to inform (inform! inform! inform!) consumers on the disorder also results in an unsightly and undesirable side effect: sofa-side diagnosis. In the case of HIV, a simple blood test tells all. However, the cause of autism has no definitive explanation (yet).


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Armed with a list of symptoms and behaviors, lay people watch for autistic children like a modern-day Myers-Briggs personality test. They think Johnny's parents should know about his possible autistic tendencies.

Recently, a few folks alluded to my husband and me that our 2-year-old son might be "slow" or "autistic," because he's cautious, reserved, quiet, uncomfortable around strangers and almost always holding a book in his hand. People offered their advice:

"Get him tested; the officials say it's best to intervene as soon as possible."

"If you wait until he's 3 years old, it might be too late."

"Enroll him in day care to break him out of his shell."

I took their advice to heart. I even cried a night or two over it. My husband didn't. He reminded me that Einstein didn't talk until he was 4 years old.

I asked our pediatrician about the allegations. Her advice: Our son was more than fine; he was great, and a sweet kid.

Because he is the product of us, two bookish introverts with a small cadre of friends, we're his primary influence until preschool starts. I never imagined being a nanny-free, stay-at-home mom and raising a shy child could be seen as an oddity.

Being shy is not a developmental challenge or handicap or even a flaw. It's part of a sensible disposition that annoys the extroverts. Quiet ones shouldn't have to apologize for it.

If only those mock physicians knew that my son picks a book off the shelf, backs into my lap and stays there for a half hour of reading time often throughout the day. These are not symptoms of autism but a child showing signs of early literacy -- which, if we're lucky, will be the next big news story we can all follow.

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Tricia Louvar is a mother of two and a freelance writer/book editor in the Los Angeles area.