Q&A: hand and foot twirling in an 8-month-old

Erin writes:

"Since my son was about 6 months old he started twirling his hands and his feet in a circular motion when he’s excited or frustrated. It seems to happen a lot when he’s in his car seat or in his high chair when he can’t move around as much.  I was a little concerned about this movement, but my husband said it’s just his way of expressing himself. When I took him to see his pediatrician last week she noted some concern about the movement. I asked her if I should be concerned and she said sometimes babies w/ autism have strange hand movements so she would like to keep her eye on him. Even though he seems completely normally in all of his development (laughs, smiles, recognizes his own name, babbles, does all physical skills for a baby his age), this really scared me and I can’t think about anything else. My husband is a neuroscientist and knows a lot about autism. He said in babies this young they usually look for an absence of developmental skills rather than unusual movements. I’m mad at our pediatrician for even hinting that it could be a sign of autism.

What I would like to know is have you had other parents ask about this same type of movement? Did their kids end up of having autism? Do you have any suggestions for how I can stop worrying about this?"

Your pediatrician is an ass. What part of "First, do no harm" doesn't she understand?

Your husband, the neuroscientist, is correct (of course). This is a normal stage of development, and both of my kids and most of the babies I've seen have gone through some version of circling or flapping in excitement. The connection with developmental disabilities is that kids sometimes get stuck in these circling/flapping stages. So what's totally normal for a baby or toddler could be a symptom of a delay or issue in an older kid.

The real issue here is how you're going to deal with this with your pediatrician. Just switch practices without telling her why? Write her a letter expressing your disappointment at her misinformation that caused you to worry needlessly and asking for an apology and that she do some further investigation on circling and flapping so she doesn't misinform other patients? Express your concern in person that she's giving misinformation as medical advice? Egg her house? It's a crapshoot.

Readers, I'm looking for three different kinds of responses, so post any and all that you have: 1) My kid circled/handflapped and passed through that stage. 2) My kid has autism and is a great kid and we're meeting the challenge. 3) My kid's pediatrician gave me bad info and this is how I handled it. (I'm going to assume that no one actually egged their ped's house.)