Autism Doctors

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on September 8, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on September 8, 2014

The Basics of Autism

Autism affects a child’s ability to communicate and develop social skills. Autistic children may seem emotionally detached. According to the Mayo Clinic, they may exhibit obsessive behavior, including intensive preoccupation with a particular object. These are only a few of the potential symptoms, all of which can range from mild to severe. Symptoms are often apparent by age 2.

Many of these symptoms may be hard to pinpoint. They might be confused with personality traits, or with other development issues. That’s why it is essential to see a professional if you suspect your child might suffer from an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a number of different doctors and specialists will play important roles in helping your child with an ASD diagnosis. In order to reach a diagnosis, doctors will observe your child’s behavior and ask you questions about his or her development. This process can include a number of different professionals from different fields.

Below are some of the assessment points and the different specialists who may play a role in your child’s diagnosis.

Initial Medical Screenings

Your pediatrician or family doctor will perform initial screenings as a standard part of your baby’s regular checkups. Your doctor can make basic measures of your child’s development in the areas of language, behavior, and social skills. If your doctor notices anything unusual about your child, you may be referred to a specialist.

Before making an appointment with any specialists, make sure they are experienced in ASD diagnostics. Ask your pediatrician for several names, in case you later want a second or third opinion.

In-Depth Medical Evaluation

At this stage, for the most accurate diagnosis, your child will undergo ASD screening. These are not medical tests. No blood test or scan can detect an ASD. Instead, these tests involve prolonged observation of your child’s behavior. Doctors test if children are learning basic skills when they should, or if there might be a delay. In addition, you will take part in detailed parental interviews about your child.

Specialists who perform these types of tests include:

  • developmental pediatricians
  • pediatric neurologists
  • child clinical psychologists or psychiatrists
  • audiologists (hearing specialists)
  • physical therapists
  • speech therapists

ASD can sometimes be very complicated to diagnose. Your child may need a team of specialists to determine whether or not he or she has an ASD. The differences between ASDs and other types of development disorder are subtle. That’s why it is important to see well-trained specialists and potentially seek out second and third opinions.

Educational Evaluation

ASD varies, and each child will have their own needs in school.

Working with a team of specialists, your child’s educators will need make their own evaluation to determine what special services they may need in the school setting. This evaluation can happen independently of a medical diagnosis.

The team that will make the evaluation could include:

  • psychologists
  • hearing and vision specialists
  • social workers
  • teachers

Questions For Your Doctor

If your doctor suspects that your child has an ASD, you may have so many questions that you don’t know where to start. Here is a list of questions compiled by the Mayo Clinic to help you get started:

  • Why do you think my child does (or doesn't) have ASD?
  • Is there a way to confirm the diagnosis?
  • If my child does have ASD, is there a way to tell how severe it is?
  • What changes can I expect to see in my child over time?
  • What kind of special therapies or care do children with ASD need?
  • How much and what kinds of regular medical care will my child need?
  • What kind of support is available to families of children with ASD?
  • How can I learn more about ASD?
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