As a parent of a child with developmental concerns, you may wonder what to do if you suspect your child has autism. Autism is one of a number of medical conditions that involve developmental delays and impairments in communication and social skills. If you suspect autism, it is important to seek a diagnosis as soon as possible. Early intervention for autism gives a child the best chance to reach her full potential.
Autism is a neurological disorder that causes significant impairments in language, communication and social skills. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fourth Edition, Revised Text (DSM IV-TR) categorizes autism as one of five pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs). The other four PDDs are Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified. PDDs are also referred to as autism spectrum disorder. Cases of autism range from mild to severe impairments.Autism is typically diagnosed by the age of two or three when a child misses key developmental milestones or loses previously acquired developmental skills.
How to Recognize Autism Symptoms
Learning about common autism symptoms can help you figure out if your child needs autism screening. Typical autism symptoms include:
Early Signs of Autism in Infancy and Toddler Years
- Developmental delays in many areas of the early childhood developmental milestones
- Does not begin baby talk by 12 months
- Infants and toddlers may not point or grab things
- Resists being held or cuddled
- Has no interest in other babies
- Frequent tantrums
Signs of Autism in Children
- Limited to no speech
- Repeats words out of context (echolalia)
- Repetitive or obsessive behaviors such as flapping hands, rocking or licking objects
- Has no interest in playing with other children
- No pretend play
- Unusual play such as spinning objects for hours, lining up objects or playing with strange objects
- Sensory issues such unusual reactions to certain noises, tastes or situations
- Problems with body awareness such as an inappropriate response to pain
Each case of autism is unique and each person experiences a different set of symptoms.
Autism and Developmental Delays
Autism typically involves delays in most areas of the childhood developmental milestones of language, social, cognitive, gross motor and fine motor skills. Children with autism often have significant impairments in the areas of communication, language and social skills. However, many other conditions such as childhood schizophrenia, intellectual disability or attention deficit disorder also present with initial developmental delays.
It is also important to realize that many children who are behind in the developmental milestones do not have any underlying medical condition and will eventually catch up and develop at the same rate as other children of the same age.
Always inform your child's doctor of any developmental concerns. Your child's doctor can determine if the child is suffering a significant developmental delay and screen for medical conditions such as autism.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Has Autism
If you suspect your child has autism, it is important to seek a proper diagnosis as soon as possible.
Request Autism Screening
Contact your child's pediatrician and request autism screening. Autism screening tests usually begins with an autism screening questionnaire. Depending on the results of the questionnaire, the doctor may order one or more of the following tests:
- Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)
- Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS)
- Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI)
- Bayley Scales
Get a Second Opinion
Some parents prefer to confirm an autism diagnosis with a second opinion. Other parents find a second opinion necessary to pursue a diagnosis. If your doctor finds possible signs of autism but prefers to wait and see rather than beginning early intervention, seek a second opinion. Early treatment is vital to the well-being of all children with autism.
You should also seek a second opinion if you still feel that your child has a medical problem even after a doctor finds nothing wrong. Contact an autism support organization for local doctor recommendations.
Find an Autism Support Group
Local autism support groups can help you pursue a diagnosis and learn more about autism. Support groups also provide a place for you to share your feelings with other people who have shared a similar experience.
Many support groups are local chapters of national autism organizations or part of a hospital, university, church or county program. Most national autism organizations have websites with contact information for local chapters. Visiting the Autism Society of America website is a good way to start a search for local support groups.
Get Local Autism Expert Recommendations
Find local autism expert recommendations. Some autism support organizations have lists of recommended doctors and therapists. You can also contact local hospitals and university hospitals to find out if they have an autism program or pediatrician with extensive autism experience on staff.
Learn About Autism
As you seek a diagnosis, learn everything possible about autism and treatment options. Educating yourself will help you make informed decisions about possible treatment options and appropriate caregivers for your child. The information may help you figure out which questions to ask the doctor.
Advocate for Your Child
When you seek an autism diagnosis, it is important to advocate for your child in every way. Work closely with doctors and therapists. Carefully note your child's symptoms and her responses to the testing and any recommended treatment. Keep your child comfortable and maintain her routine as much as possible. Get multiple expert opinions if you are not satisfied with test results or a treatment recommendation.
Hope for Your Child
If your child is diagnosed with autism, take comfort in the fact that many children are responding to current autism treatments, especially early intervention. Your child can achieve a life of dignity, happiness and fulfillment. There is hope for a bright future.