Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder

All children are individuals and develop differently through the baby and toddler stages. The same can be said for development throughout childhood, the teenage years and adulthood. As a parent of a young child you may become aware that your child is not developing and acquiring the same skills as other children of the same of similar age. Someone who is familiar with your child may also notice differences.

Many people ask ‘what are the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder(ASD)?’ It is better explained as a set of key features that are indicators for a possible diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These are impairment in social interactions; impairment of communication skills- both verbal and non-verbal; and repetitive patterns of behaviour.

These differences could present early:

  • Lack of babbling by 12 months of age or similar noises
  • No single words by 16 months of age
  • No two word spontaneous phrases by 2 years of age(not echolalia-repeating back what has been said)
  • Lack of eye contact with you
  • No pointing or other gestures by 12 months of age
  • Often does not seek the attention of others and seems disinterested in others
  • A preference to play by themselves and if they do become involved with others they may be passive or play alongside rather than with other children
  • If left to themselves they may engage in repetitive behaviour such as lining up objects

School aged children, teenagers and adults may indicate that they feel different from others, they might say they don’t understand the way other people act, they find what other people say is confusing for them and they may be experiencing difficulty socialising. These symptoms of ASD or key features will possibly become more apparent as a child develops, when language milestones and social development does not keep pace with same age peers.

Getting a diagnosis of ASD is through a clinical assessment and is based on behavioural criteria. There are tools for screening and diagnosing autism and each practitioner will have their own. Possible tools are the Checklist for Autism in Toddlers(CHAT), Childhood Autism Rating Scale(CARS) and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Generic(ADOS-G). The assessment is undertaken by a paediatrician and or a psychologist. A learning disability such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder  or an Intellectual Disability may possibly be identified at this time of diagnosis.

Assessments will be undertaken with you and your child and on completion will be able to identify whether your child meets the criteria for a diagnosis of ASD. A diagnosis can now be made as early as 18 months of age.

If you are an adult and you think you may have ASD because you are experiencing difficulties socialising and your view of the world is very different to that of others, a diagnostic assessment would be undertaken by a psychologist or psychiatrist.

For parents and older persons receiving a diagnosis you will experience varied emotions. The important thing is using the assessment results to put in place a plan and support structures for you or the person diagnosed.

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