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How is Autism Diagnosed?

“When people refer to ‘Autism’ today, they are usually talking about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), which are five complex, brain-based disorders that affect a person’s behavior as well as social and communication skills.” <The Autism Science Foundation>

Many parents first suspect a problem when their child does not reach developmental milestones, such as speaking his or her first words and simple back-and-forth exchanges. For example, a child may be able to complete a jigsaw puzzle with ease, but may not be able to wave “bye-bye.”

Currently, medical tests to diagnose autism are in the experimental phase and not yet available. Diagnosis must be based on observations of the child’s behavior by a trained diagnostician, usually a psychologist or neurodevelopmental pediatrician. Autism and PDD-NOS are often diagnosed around age three or earlier, when possible.  Children with Asperger’s Syndrome are often miss being identified until school age, adolescence or even adulthood.

Signs and symptoms of Autism are often noticeable in infants as young as 6 months old. Early signs include:

  1. A lack of reaching for objects such as toys or trying to bring their hands to their mouth.
  2. Not showing affection for caregivers.
  3. A lack of laughing and smiling.
  4. Not looking where a parent or caregiver points.

Later signs include:

  1. Delayed babbling or single word use
  2. Lack of imitation or copying others
  3. Loss of skills she/he once had
  4. Inability to walk or crawl.
  5. Failure to respond to his/her name.

Parents who have questions or concerns about their child’s development can talk to their child’s doctor.  Early Intervention services are available to infants, toddlers and preschoolers in Pike County.  A referral is not needed to contact the below agencies.  To see if your child may qualify, contact:

  • Carbon/Monroe/Pike MH/MR at 570-296-6484 (infants and toddlers) or
  • Marcia Bruno, Intermediate Unit 20, 610-252-5550 ext. 6476 (preschoolers)

While all children and adults with Autism are different, they share many common traits.  These include (but are not limited to):

  1. Difficulty understanding and using spoken language and body language.  Some Autistic people do not speak at all, or use as few words as possible.
  2. Extreme under or over-sensitivity to touch, sound, smell, and light.  Autistic people often chose to avoid or seek out sensory experiences to self-calm.
  3. A need for routine, consistency and order.  Sudden or unexpected changes, and sometimes anticipated changes often cause a great deal of anxiety.
  4. Narrow and intense special interests which they enjoy learning about and sometimes sharing with people.  These can be as simple as fruits and vegetables or as complicated as astrophysics.
  5. Repetitive behaviors like lining up toys, spinning, flapping or rocking.  These behaviors are often used by the Autistic child or adult to self-calm or self-regulate.

A medical diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is most frequently made by a physician according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) of the American Psychological Association (2013).  A school diagnosis may be conducted by a multidisciplinary team or group, which must include at least one teacher or other specialist with specific knowledge of Autism.  <Autism Society.org>  To obtain interventions in school, a school diagnosis or evaluation is required.  This can be done with or without a medical diagnosis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that all children should be screened for developmental delays at every visit, and that screening tests should be conducted at the 9 month, 18 month and either the 24 or 30 month visits.