Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder

Reviewed Jan 7, 2021

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Summary

  • People with autism spectrum disorder can have many different conditions.
  • Diagnosis involves an interview and observation.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment is important. 

Autism spectrum disorder  (ASD), or autism, is an umbrella term for a number of conditions that get in the way of a person’s ability to communicate and develop social skills. Some people have only minor problems that might not be seen. Others are isolated by many things that keep them from interacting with other people. Most people fall somewhere in between.

People with autism have their own unique set of strengths and challenges. Whatever the mixture is, it will fall somewhere on what is called the autism spectrum. As a short cut, most people use the word autism to describe all the points on the spectrum. Doctors, therapists, and teachers are more specific. They use a word that better describes the nature of a person’s condition.

Is all autism the same?

No, people with autism spectrum disorder are as different as people with other conditions, such as headaches. Some are severely disabled and others are not. Some have other medical problems at the same time. Some have almost no symptoms.

Until recently, people—mostly children—were diagnosed with one of several different types of autism, including Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Now, the term autism is used to describe everyone with the disorder, along with descriptions of specific challenges or abilities they may have.

To diagnose your child, a doctor will ask you many questions and will observe him while he looks for clues related to his:

  • Social interaction and communication with others, both verbal and non-verbal. Can he carry on a conversation with another person? Does she make eye contact? Is he interested in relating to other people?
  • Medical problems. Does he have gastrointestinal problems or epileptic seizures?
  • Intellectual behaviors. Does she show no interest in reading or read at the level expected for her age?
  • Repetitive behaviors. Does your child rock back and forth or repeat a pattern of movements?

With input from the child, parents and teachers, the doctor will determine the child’s level within each diagnostic area. For example, she may be diagnosed as having autism with gastrointestinal problems and high intellectual abilities. Or perhaps, on the autism spectrum with severe repetitive behaviors and low social interaction.

This detailed diagnosis will help professionals design the best treatment program for your child. It will also give you the information you need to decide what you can do as a parent to help your child. 

Parents always are checking to see if their child is meeting the milestones that are part of growing up. They compare their own child against another or standards spelled out in parent guidelines. Most often, children walk and talk and learn to feed themselves at roughly the same time. A few months difference isn’t anything to worry about. But anything above that, it is cause for worry.

If you are worried about how your child speaks or does not speak, plays or is not interested in playing with others, learns or does not learn, do not wait to ask a doctor. Contact one for a referral to a child development specialist, or ask your local school system to test your child.

Early intervention has been shown to make a huge difference in the way a child with autism grows.

If you are an adult and think you may have problems stemming from undiagnosed autism, talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to the right person.
 
How is it diagnosed?

The examination for autism is not much different for children as it is for adults. It involves:

  • An interview: What brings you here?
  • Observation: How does the person relate one on one, in a small group or in a crowd?
  • A health history: Bring your own notes and whatever else you have. 
  • A history of a person’s firsts: Make a list of when she spoke her first words, took her first steps or reached other milestones. 

There are no blood tests or X-rays to pinpoint a spot on the autism spectrum. With the help of a complete checklist, a doctor will use teaching, experience and good sense to get to the root of the problem.

Treatment and training

Treatment will vary, depending on the diagnosis and how bad the disability.

It may include:

  • Special education
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Drugs to lower anxiety and disruptive behavior
  • Applied Behavior Analysis

The best thing you can do as a parent is to get your child evaluated and treated early. Do not wait until the child is school age.

You can ask for a free evaluation from your state’s early childhood education system, to find out if your child qualifies for services. This is sometimes called a Child Find evaluation. You do not need a doctor’s diagnosis or referral to make this call.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Asha Asher, M.A., pediatric occupational therapist and special education teacher, Sycamore Community Schools, Cincinnati, OH; Leandra N. Berry, Ph.D., pediatric neuropsychologist, Autism Center, Texas Childrenメs Hospital, Houston, TX; Skott Freedman, Ph.D., child language development and disorders specialist, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY; Areva Martin, Esq., attorney, advocate for children with autism, and author of The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand Up for Your Autistic Child, Los Angeles, CA; Sherry Sancibrian, M.S., associate professor and program director Speech-Language Pathology and an investigator for the Burkhart Center at the College of Education, Health Sciences Center School of Allied Health Sciences, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

Summary

  • People with autism spectrum disorder can have many different conditions.
  • Diagnosis involves an interview and observation.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment is important. 

Autism spectrum disorder  (ASD), or autism, is an umbrella term for a number of conditions that get in the way of a person’s ability to communicate and develop social skills. Some people have only minor problems that might not be seen. Others are isolated by many things that keep them from interacting with other people. Most people fall somewhere in between.

People with autism have their own unique set of strengths and challenges. Whatever the mixture is, it will fall somewhere on what is called the autism spectrum. As a short cut, most people use the word autism to describe all the points on the spectrum. Doctors, therapists, and teachers are more specific. They use a word that better describes the nature of a person’s condition.

Is all autism the same?

No, people with autism spectrum disorder are as different as people with other conditions, such as headaches. Some are severely disabled and others are not. Some have other medical problems at the same time. Some have almost no symptoms.

Until recently, people—mostly children—were diagnosed with one of several different types of autism, including Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Now, the term autism is used to describe everyone with the disorder, along with descriptions of specific challenges or abilities they may have.

To diagnose your child, a doctor will ask you many questions and will observe him while he looks for clues related to his:

  • Social interaction and communication with others, both verbal and non-verbal. Can he carry on a conversation with another person? Does she make eye contact? Is he interested in relating to other people?
  • Medical problems. Does he have gastrointestinal problems or epileptic seizures?
  • Intellectual behaviors. Does she show no interest in reading or read at the level expected for her age?
  • Repetitive behaviors. Does your child rock back and forth or repeat a pattern of movements?

With input from the child, parents and teachers, the doctor will determine the child’s level within each diagnostic area. For example, she may be diagnosed as having autism with gastrointestinal problems and high intellectual abilities. Or perhaps, on the autism spectrum with severe repetitive behaviors and low social interaction.

This detailed diagnosis will help professionals design the best treatment program for your child. It will also give you the information you need to decide what you can do as a parent to help your child. 

Parents always are checking to see if their child is meeting the milestones that are part of growing up. They compare their own child against another or standards spelled out in parent guidelines. Most often, children walk and talk and learn to feed themselves at roughly the same time. A few months difference isn’t anything to worry about. But anything above that, it is cause for worry.

If you are worried about how your child speaks or does not speak, plays or is not interested in playing with others, learns or does not learn, do not wait to ask a doctor. Contact one for a referral to a child development specialist, or ask your local school system to test your child.

Early intervention has been shown to make a huge difference in the way a child with autism grows.

If you are an adult and think you may have problems stemming from undiagnosed autism, talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to the right person.
 
How is it diagnosed?

The examination for autism is not much different for children as it is for adults. It involves:

  • An interview: What brings you here?
  • Observation: How does the person relate one on one, in a small group or in a crowd?
  • A health history: Bring your own notes and whatever else you have. 
  • A history of a person’s firsts: Make a list of when she spoke her first words, took her first steps or reached other milestones. 

There are no blood tests or X-rays to pinpoint a spot on the autism spectrum. With the help of a complete checklist, a doctor will use teaching, experience and good sense to get to the root of the problem.

Treatment and training

Treatment will vary, depending on the diagnosis and how bad the disability.

It may include:

  • Special education
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Drugs to lower anxiety and disruptive behavior
  • Applied Behavior Analysis

The best thing you can do as a parent is to get your child evaluated and treated early. Do not wait until the child is school age.

You can ask for a free evaluation from your state’s early childhood education system, to find out if your child qualifies for services. This is sometimes called a Child Find evaluation. You do not need a doctor’s diagnosis or referral to make this call.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Asha Asher, M.A., pediatric occupational therapist and special education teacher, Sycamore Community Schools, Cincinnati, OH; Leandra N. Berry, Ph.D., pediatric neuropsychologist, Autism Center, Texas Childrenメs Hospital, Houston, TX; Skott Freedman, Ph.D., child language development and disorders specialist, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY; Areva Martin, Esq., attorney, advocate for children with autism, and author of The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand Up for Your Autistic Child, Los Angeles, CA; Sherry Sancibrian, M.S., associate professor and program director Speech-Language Pathology and an investigator for the Burkhart Center at the College of Education, Health Sciences Center School of Allied Health Sciences, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

Summary

  • People with autism spectrum disorder can have many different conditions.
  • Diagnosis involves an interview and observation.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment is important. 

Autism spectrum disorder  (ASD), or autism, is an umbrella term for a number of conditions that get in the way of a person’s ability to communicate and develop social skills. Some people have only minor problems that might not be seen. Others are isolated by many things that keep them from interacting with other people. Most people fall somewhere in between.

People with autism have their own unique set of strengths and challenges. Whatever the mixture is, it will fall somewhere on what is called the autism spectrum. As a short cut, most people use the word autism to describe all the points on the spectrum. Doctors, therapists, and teachers are more specific. They use a word that better describes the nature of a person’s condition.

Is all autism the same?

No, people with autism spectrum disorder are as different as people with other conditions, such as headaches. Some are severely disabled and others are not. Some have other medical problems at the same time. Some have almost no symptoms.

Until recently, people—mostly children—were diagnosed with one of several different types of autism, including Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Now, the term autism is used to describe everyone with the disorder, along with descriptions of specific challenges or abilities they may have.

To diagnose your child, a doctor will ask you many questions and will observe him while he looks for clues related to his:

  • Social interaction and communication with others, both verbal and non-verbal. Can he carry on a conversation with another person? Does she make eye contact? Is he interested in relating to other people?
  • Medical problems. Does he have gastrointestinal problems or epileptic seizures?
  • Intellectual behaviors. Does she show no interest in reading or read at the level expected for her age?
  • Repetitive behaviors. Does your child rock back and forth or repeat a pattern of movements?

With input from the child, parents and teachers, the doctor will determine the child’s level within each diagnostic area. For example, she may be diagnosed as having autism with gastrointestinal problems and high intellectual abilities. Or perhaps, on the autism spectrum with severe repetitive behaviors and low social interaction.

This detailed diagnosis will help professionals design the best treatment program for your child. It will also give you the information you need to decide what you can do as a parent to help your child. 

Parents always are checking to see if their child is meeting the milestones that are part of growing up. They compare their own child against another or standards spelled out in parent guidelines. Most often, children walk and talk and learn to feed themselves at roughly the same time. A few months difference isn’t anything to worry about. But anything above that, it is cause for worry.

If you are worried about how your child speaks or does not speak, plays or is not interested in playing with others, learns or does not learn, do not wait to ask a doctor. Contact one for a referral to a child development specialist, or ask your local school system to test your child.

Early intervention has been shown to make a huge difference in the way a child with autism grows.

If you are an adult and think you may have problems stemming from undiagnosed autism, talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to the right person.
 
How is it diagnosed?

The examination for autism is not much different for children as it is for adults. It involves:

  • An interview: What brings you here?
  • Observation: How does the person relate one on one, in a small group or in a crowd?
  • A health history: Bring your own notes and whatever else you have. 
  • A history of a person’s firsts: Make a list of when she spoke her first words, took her first steps or reached other milestones. 

There are no blood tests or X-rays to pinpoint a spot on the autism spectrum. With the help of a complete checklist, a doctor will use teaching, experience and good sense to get to the root of the problem.

Treatment and training

Treatment will vary, depending on the diagnosis and how bad the disability.

It may include:

  • Special education
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Drugs to lower anxiety and disruptive behavior
  • Applied Behavior Analysis

The best thing you can do as a parent is to get your child evaluated and treated early. Do not wait until the child is school age.

You can ask for a free evaluation from your state’s early childhood education system, to find out if your child qualifies for services. This is sometimes called a Child Find evaluation. You do not need a doctor’s diagnosis or referral to make this call.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Asha Asher, M.A., pediatric occupational therapist and special education teacher, Sycamore Community Schools, Cincinnati, OH; Leandra N. Berry, Ph.D., pediatric neuropsychologist, Autism Center, Texas Childrenメs Hospital, Houston, TX; Skott Freedman, Ph.D., child language development and disorders specialist, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY; Areva Martin, Esq., attorney, advocate for children with autism, and author of The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand Up for Your Autistic Child, Los Angeles, CA; Sherry Sancibrian, M.S., associate professor and program director Speech-Language Pathology and an investigator for the Burkhart Center at the College of Education, Health Sciences Center School of Allied Health Sciences, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

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