Diagnosing autism is often difficult because children may not show any signs or symptoms until they reach the age of two, three or even older. The first person to notice the signs of autism are usually one or both of the child’s parents.
The parents may notice that their child has a hard time interacting with others, that the child suffers from developmental delays or that the child does not speak. As a parent of a younger child, you might look at some of the ways that doctors diagnose autism before speaking with your own physician.
1. Early Screenings
Autism Speaks, the organization responsible for raising awareness of autism, recommends that parents arrange for early screenings when their children are younger. During each appointment that your child has, the doctor will ask you about developmental milestones to determine if your child is on track with his or her peers. The doctor will continue monitoring your child’s progress for several years. If the doctor has any concerns regarding your child’s development, the doctor may suggest other methods to identify and determine if your child has autism or a similar condition.
2. Toddler Checklist
One way in which doctors go about diagnosing autism is with a toddler checklist. Also known as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Children or the M-CHAT, this is a simple list that shows where a child should be in life based on his or her age. You can often get a copy of this chart from your doctor or online. This checklist asks you a series of questions to determine if your child exhibits any symptoms of autism. It will ask if you child can listen to and follow basic instructions, whether your child is capable of playing with others and if your child can communicate in a verbal manner.
3. Medical Evaluation
Once you address your concerns with a physician, the doctor can do a medical evaluation to determine the cause of your child’s symptoms and problems. This is an important step because it allows the doctor to rule out any other medical problems. For example, your child may have a hard time following directions or listening to you because he or she has an ear infection or is deaf in one ear. The doctor will look at common medical conditions that affect children of the same age before deciding whether to send your child to a specialist.
5. Other Methods
If the doctor has a hard time diagnosing autism in your child, the physician may recommend that you get a full evaluation done. This usually requires the help of a licensed therapist, a speech therapist and other professionals. Those experts can perform simple tests to see how your child reacts to different forms of stimulation. They will also ask you questions about how your child acts at home and whether you experienced any common problems in the past, including frequent tantrums, disruptive behaviors or the inability to follow basic instructions.
Children with autism may speak and even interact with others, but your child may not speak or experience problems when away from home. Autistic children often have problems dealing with change, including going to school or taking a trip away from home. If your child exhibits any development delays or other problems, speak with your doctor about the possibility of diagnosing autism in your son or daughter.