Diagnosing Children With Autism

Alison Jean Thomas
Closer Look at Autism

Diagnosing children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complicated process. It is a condition with various levels of severity and presents differently with each case. If you suspect your child is displaying behavior related to ASD, it is vital you seek help from your medical practitioner immediately. Early diagnosis of the disorder impacts the future of your child.

Watch for Early Signs

Children with ASD are self-orientated with poor social skills and communication. However, because each child develops at a different rate, you may be unsure of the signs. You should be concerned if your child:

  • Shows poor response to people and events
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Does not want to be picked up or cuddled
  • Reacts unusually to smells, tastes, colors, or textures
  • Indulges in obsessive or repetitive behavior
  • Has frequent temper tantrums

Prepare for Your Appointment

In the interim between contacting your pediatrician and your appointment, it is important that you do something positive. This will help keep your worries at bay. Mayo Clinic advises you take the time to get ready for the appointment. It will be helpful for your appointment if you make a list of medications your child is taking, jot down observations other adults and caregivers have made about his conduct, note any developmental milestones or recent changes, and video record any unusual behaviors or movements.

Your doctor will ask about the following, so be sure to have the information ready.

  • If there was a particular behavior or incident that worried you into arranging to see him
  • When the behavior first occurred
  • Your child's physical health
  • When he first crawled, walked, and said his first word
  • If anything improves his symptoms
  • If anything prompts behavioral problems
  • If there is a family history of ASD or other disorders.

Likewise, it is important to prepare questions you may have in advance. Know exactly what you wish to ask. Again, it is a good idea to compile a list. Discuss any questions you have with a family friend or relative and write them down so you don't forget; you may feel emotional and get confused during the interview.

The Appointment

The doctor will give your child a physical examination and refer to his medical history from well-child visits.

At this point, he might use the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT-R/F) screening tool, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, is an updated screening tool that parents and doctors can employ to measure the extent of a child's autism risk. It is a simple questionnaire you can download before visiting the doctor. It comes with instructions and an algorithm for scoring. However, be aware it loses sensitivity and delivers more false-positives if a specialist doesn't do the follow-up.

Healthline describe the immediate actions the doctor will take following your interview. He'll probably refer you to a specialist team. This will involve:

  • Developmental paediatricians
  • Child psychologists
  • Child neurologists
  • Speech and language pathologists
  • Occupational therapist

Further Tests

During further testing, specialists use varied screening tools to diagnose ASD. This helps establish your child is suffering from autism and not another disorder that presents in a similar manner. Healthline lists the tools you may come across.

  • The Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ) screens social and emotional development.
  • The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) assesses play, social interaction, and communication.
  • The Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) is used by parents and caregivers to rate behavior.
  • The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule - Generic (ADOS-G) measures social interaction.
  • The Pervasive Developmental Disorders Screening Test - Stage 3 checks different elements of child development.
  • The Parents' Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS) is a tool parents use to detect early behavioral and developmental problems.
  • Parents, teachers, and clinicians use the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale to rate the level of autism.
  • Community service providers use the Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT) in intervention settings to screen children aged two to three years.

Experts may use these tools in combination and can administer them for children starting at an early age.

Specialists may also ask you to allow your child to undergo genetics testing to discover whether this is a contributing factor to your child's disorder. If genetic abnormality is significant, it could indicate inherited factors and point to other family members having the same problem.

Once you have a diagnosis, ask your health-care professionals for an action plan.

Further Information

Since ASD is a broad spectrum disorder that resembles many others, it is advisable to screen in several areas. Autism Society provides a useful page of links to different disorders and syndromes that may show similar symptoms to autism.

Be Prepared

For all parents, seeking a diagnosis for ASD is a difficult journey into the medical field. It is important to prepare yourself by talking to professionals and others in your situation. The sooner you get the assistance you need, the better it is for your child because an early identification will help reduce the problems he faces later in life.

Diagnosing Children With Autism