Diagnosing Autism in Your Child
How is the Diagnosis of Autism Made?
The diagnosis of autism in a child is made by a professional experienced in the evaluation of children with developmental disorders. A qualified professional may be a pediatrician, pediatric neurologist, child psychiatrist, or psychologist. The diagnosis is based on a history of the child's development provided by those who know the child well, as well as a clinical interview/observation of the child.
At what age can Autism be diagnosed?
Although some children show autistic patterns of social interaction almost from birth, it is difficult to give a definitive diagnosis of autism before age three. This is because rates of development in infants and young children are widely variable. Also, autism is frequently accompanied by mental retardation (about 70% of the time). Some behaviors associated with autism are also frequently found in children who are mentally retarded.
This may make it difficult to discriminate between the two conditions, or determine that both conditions are present, in very young children. By the time a child is three or four, cognitive development can be more accurately assessed. At the same time, social development can be more clearly assessed for delay or deviance.
How can my child be assessed for Autism if he/she can not talk?
A child's social development can be assessed by observation of the child's pattern of non-verbal interaction with both familiar and unfamiliar people. Parents can help in this assessment by observing and reporting how the child relates (non-verbally) through gestures, facial expression, and eye contact with peers and adults.
Should I do anything to prepare for my child being assessed for Autism?
The doctor may want to see any previous assessments that your child has had; if you have them, bring them along to the appointment. Also, as a part of the assessment, developmental milestones will be discussed. It is helpful to think of these beforehand and gather any records you may have (for instance, a baby book that you have recorded milestones). Make a list of the characteristics, problems, or behaviors that are concerning you before the appointment. As well, write out any questions that you may have for the doctor.
What is the process involved in getting a diagnosis for Autism from a professional?
It depends on the individual completing the assessment and the individual being assessed. Some doctors may not make a diagnosis immediately and will prefer instead to wait and see how a young child progresses over time. Those who are very familiar with PDD conditions may feel confident about making a diagnosis immediately.
During the interview(s) the assessor will want to know the characteristics that are concerning and the child's or adult’s developmental milestones. Standardized tests (such as tests of intelligence and language abilities) may be a part of an assessment, especially if the diagnostician is a psychologist.
Where can I go to get a diagnosis for Autism?
Start with your family doctor. They may be able to refer you to a specialist in the field. As well, some local hospitals have specialized clinics for children experiencing developmental, behavior, or mental health problems.
My child already has another diagnosis. Will that diagnosis remain if they are diagnosed with Autism or PDD?
This is a complex question and there may be considerable variation as to how professionals respond to this issue. Sometimes, a diagnosis that is given before a diagnosis of PDD or Asperger's, addresses some of the problems that may be evident (for example, a learning disability or attention deficit problem).
However, this label may not account for the whole range of characteristics that a diagnosis of PDD addresses. It is therefore most helpful to think of your child as having the diagnosis which is most inclusive of all the symptoms which s/he exhibits.
If an individual has symptoms which are not explained by a diagnosis of PDD (such as depression or severe anxiety), these labels may be given in addition to a diagnosis of PDD. In this case, they may need special attention in the individual's care plan. Most doctors are open to their patients getting a second opinion, and it is your right to do so.
Call for an initial evaluation for your child
Our clinic, with learning disability centers in the San Jose / San Francisco area, provides initial evaluations towards the steps of diagnosis and treatment. Contact us for an appointment today - 925-837-1100 or 408-740-3100.