Autism has been in the news more often in recent years. More kids are being identified with this developmental disability. This isn’t because of an increase in the frequency of occurrence, but rather an increased awareness of autism, or as it is referred to today, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This, in turn, leads some parents to wonder how to tell if their child may have autism.
Current statistics say autism affects one out of 59 children in the US and is four times more likely to be diagnosed in boys than in girls.
There have been changes to the criteria for a diagnosis. For a diagnosis to be made, there must be communication difficulties, social and behavioral difficulties, and behaviors that are repetitive or restrictive.
Although studies have shown behavioral signs have been seen in babies as young as six months old, a diagnosis isn’t considered definite until at least 18 months of age. ASD isn’t suspected in some children until they begin school and have significant social struggles.
Doctors can’t run a “physical” test, like a lab test or MRI of the brain, to determine if a child has ASD. Instead, a physician makes a diagnosis by observing an individual’s behavior. The diagnostic criteria are laid out in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” (DSM).
Early diagnosis means earlier intervention, which can help a child maximize their abilities and potential.
“An early diagnosis helps in that it entitles your child to critically important therapies, interventions, and special accommodations sooner rather than later,” Sam Farmer, author of A Long Walk Down a Winding Road: Small Steps, Challenges, and Triumphs Through an Autistic Lens and autism advocate, says. “These types of assistance, are provided by clinicians, like doctors and therapists, and various folks connected to your child’s school’s Special Education program. This assistance is geared towards enabling your autistic child to survive, and hopefully thrive, amidst all kinds of societal expectations which were established and continue to be enforced by the non-autistic majority.”
Some children with ASD engage in repetitive behaviors like rocking, spinning or flapping. They may have a rigid need for a routine that doesn’t vary. Just as telling is what they don’t do: make eye contact, respond to their name or familiar voices, use gestures, like pointing to communicate. They’re resistant to cuddling. Socially awkward is a phrase often used to describe them because they struggle with, or are disinterested in, playing with other children or making friends. They may seem utterly unaware of other people.
Any parent concerned about their child should talk to their child’s health care provider. Farmer says, “Neuropsychologists, who are experienced at performing neuropsychological evaluations. are worth considering.”
Further resources recommended by Farmer: “The Asperger/Autism Network (www.aane.org), a local autism resource center, and other similar organizations that aim to help spectrum folks of all ages live more meaningful, connected lives, may be good places to start in terms of learning who to best turn to for a truthful diagnosis (or for ruling out the diagnosis) if you suspect autism for your child.”