There are currently no medical exams to specifically diagnose Autism. Doctors and healthcare professionals rely on observation, talking with parents, physicians and therapists about the child in question to make a diagnosis.
Doctors examine a core group of three behaviors that tend to hallmark the disorder. The first being social interaction, the ability of a child to interact with both peers and parents. Secondly, verbal interactions, children may have trouble vocalizing needs and conversing, usually relying on grunts and pointing and thirdly doctors look at repetitive behaviors and if a child has a narrow field of interests that may be exclusive from others.
Since Autism is such a wide ranging disorder with many levels of severity, it is not common for one doctor to decide and make a diagnosis. Often time professionals have to work together and compare observations and notes.
Autism Screening: Testing For Autism Spectrum Disorder
First, since vocal communication may be a problem, hearing tests are generally one of the first tests to be completed. Once hearing tests are completed, a complete neurological exam is given, along with cognitive and language testing.
Neurologists, speech therapists and psychiatrists are usually brought on board, and at the end of testing parents should be heavily involved in talking to doctors about the prognosis and decide together which way to proceed for treatment.
Nearly all medical professionals agree though, that an early diagnosis is very important in the treatment of Autism, as it gives doctors and therapists a chance to begin work immediately on confronting the various challenges both child and parent will face.
During the testing process, it is important for all parties involved to communicate and work together. The Autism Society of America urges parents to use a four-pronged attack when going through the diagnosis process.
- Stay informed: Learn as much as you can about your child’s disorder and when talking to healthcare professionals, ask questions and if something isn’t clear, ask for clarifications.
- Be prepared: Be prepared for meetings with doctors, therapists and school personnel. Write questions and concerns and note answers.
- Be organized: Many parents find it useful to keep a notebook their child’s diagnosis and treatment as well as meetings with professionals.
- Communicate: It’s important to ensure open communication. If you don’t agree with a professional’s recommendation, for example, say specifically why you don’t.
A recent study conducted by the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that there was a 13 month delay between parents seeking diagnosis and the Autism diagnosis being made, with the authors claiming that the delay was a result of the varying degrees of the disorder and being first diagnosed with other problems. This study, although completed only in the metropolitan Atlanta, Ga. area, highlights the trouble and difficulty in a firm diagnosis of Autism.
It is important to remember that you do not need a diagnosis to begin helping your child. Whatever the final diagnosis ends up being is irrelevant to the fact that as a parent you know your child has challenges and you want to help your child. Don’t wait for a diagnosis to start looking at ways to encourage your child to grow.
It is also important for parents to realize that since Autism spectrum disorder is still being studied and understood. Diagnosis and treatment information can be widely different from professionals. Do not take one person’s advice as the sole source of information, instead do your homework and find the path that best suits you and your child toward treatment.