Diagnosing Autism

Diagnosing Autism

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends screening children for autism during regularly scheduled well-child visits. This policy helps doctors identify signs of autism early in its course. Early diagnosis and treatment can help the child reach his or her full potential.

When a developmental delay is recognized in a child, further testing can help a doctor find out whether the problem is related to autism, another pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), or a condition with similar symptoms, such aslanguage delays or avoidant personality disorder. If your primary care provider does not have specific training or experience in developmental problems, he or she may refer your child to a specialist-usually a developmental pediatrician, psychiatrist, speech therapist, or child psychiatrist-for the additional testing.

Signs of autism vary from individual to individual . Diagnosis is usually based on careful observation as well as information provided by parents and other caregivers on the child’s behavior, communication, social interaction, and developmental levels.

There are also a number of screening tests or questionnaires which can be performed, including the CARS rating (Childhood Autism Rating Scale) and CHAT (Checklist for Autism in Toddlers).

Diagnosis can be made by pediatricians, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, or by a multi-disciplinary team, usually utilizing an autism symptoms checklist.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Autism

Children with autism usually display impairments in social, behavioral, and communication skills. Keeping an autism symptoms checklist can help when seeking help from a healthcare professional. Symptoms can include:

Social Difficulties:

  • Lack of eye contact, facial expressions, and social gestures
  • Failure to develop peer relationships
  • Does not seek out social interaction
  • Appears not to hear you at times and lacks responsiveness
  • Resists cuddling, holding, and physical touch
  • Appears unaware of others’ emotions
  • Retreats into his or her “own world” and prefers to play alone

Communication Difficulties:

  • Delayed language development or absence of speech
  • Inability to start or sustain conversation
  • Stereotyped or ‘strange’ use of language
  • “Disney speak” – repeats phrases from frequently watched cartoons or movies
  • Language regression – loses previously acquired ability to say certain words or sentences
  • Avoids eye contact when speaking
  • Repetition of words or phrases, with little understanding of how to make sense of these words or use them in own speech
  • Difficulty expressing own needs and often uses gestures rather than words

Behavioral Difficulties:

  • Anger, aggression or violent behavior
  • Eating disorders (e.g. under or over eating)
  • Mood swings
  • Restricted and repetitive behavior
  • Abnormally intense preoccupation with certain activities or areas of interest
  • Obsessive or inappropriate attachment to certain objects
  • Inflexible insistence on certain non-functional rituals or routines
  • Insists on sameness, and becomes distressed when routines or rituals are changed
  • Stereotyped and repetitive movements called “stimming”, e.g. hand flapping or rocking
  • Preoccupation with parts of objects, such as a fascination with the spinning wheel of a toy car
  • May be particularly sensitive to loud sounds, bright lights, or physical touch and textures

Other Symptoms

  • Concentration problems
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Unusual or excessive sweating
  • Incontinence (can result in bed wetting)
  • Minor seizures and muscle spasms

As with any potential disorder you believe your child might be facing, it’s important to seek medical advice quickly. Often times, diseases and disorders will include symptoms which appear to mirror those of other issues, and it’s important to better understand what your child is facing.

In love and health to all our young children, I wish you well in your journey for answers!

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