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, which can range from mild to severe. Symptoms are often apparent by age 2.

Many of these symptoms are hard to pinpoint. They might be confused with personality traits or with other developmental issues. That’s why it’s essential to see a professional if you suspect that your child has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a number of different doctors and specialists will play an important role in helping with an ASD diagnosis. In order to reach a diagnosis, doctors will observe your child’s behavior and ask you questions about their 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.

Your pediatrician or family doctor will perform initial screenings as a standard part of your baby’s regular checkups. Your doctor can assess your child’s development in the areas of:

  • language
  • behavior
  • 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 want a second or third opinion later.

At this stage, for the most accurate diagnosis, your child will undergo ASD screening. This is not a medical test. No blood test or scan can detect an ASD. Instead, screening involves prolonged observation of your child’s behavior. Doctors use tests to see 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

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

ASDs vary, and each child will have their own needs.

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

The evaluation team may include:

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

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 helpful questions compiled by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Why do you think my child does, or doesn’t, have an ASD?
  • Is there a way to confirm the diagnosis?
  • If my child does have an 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 ASDs 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 ASDs?
  • How can I learn more about ASDs?