Presently, there is not a medical test for autism; a diagnosis is based on observed behavior and educational and psychological testing.
As the symptoms of autism vary, so do the routes to obtaining a diagnosis. A parent may have raised questions with a pediatrician. Some children are identified as having developmental delays before obtaining a diagnosis of autism and may already receive some
Unfortunately, parents' concerns are sometimes not taken seriously by their doctor and a diagnosis is delayed. Autism Speaks and other autism related organizations are working hard to educate parents and physicians so that children with autism are identified as early as possible. From birth to at least 36 months of age, every child should be screened for developmental milestones during routine well visits. If concerns about a child's development are raised, their doctor should refer the child to Early Intervention and a specialist for a developmental evaluation. Hearing and lead exposure screenings should be performed and an autism-specific screening tool, such as the Modified Checklist of Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT) should be used.
The MCHAT, is a list of simple questions about your child. The answers determine whether he or she should be referred to a specialist, usually a Developmental Pediatrician, a Neurologist, a Psychiatrist or a Psychologist, for further evaluation.
There are other screening tools available, some geared towards older children or specific Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Your child may have been diagnosed by one of the professionals mentioned above. In some cases, a team of specialists may have evaluated your child and provided recommendations for treatment. The team may have included an Audiologist, to rule out hearing loss, a Speech & Language Therapist, to determine language skills and needs, and an Occupational Therapist to evaluate physical and motor skills. If this was not the case for your child, you will want to make sure further evaluations are conducted so that you can learn as much as possible about your child's strengths and needs.
I. A total of six (or more) items from heading (A), (B), and (C), with at least two from (A), and one each from (B) and (C):
(A) Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
(B) Qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:
(C) Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities, as manifested by at least two of the following:
II. Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years:
(A) Social interaction.
(B) Language is used in social communication.
(C) Symbolic or imaginative play.
III. The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett's Disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Source: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; Fourth Edition
Catherine Lord, Director of the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center, answers questions about Autism Spectrum diagnoses.
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