How It All Fits Together
Diagnosing ASD can be very difficult, mainly because the condition starts to manifest itself early. The families of people living with the condition have to watch for early signs and symptoms in their children from as early as 18 months old.
They should also do a developmental screening test with a certified healthcare professional who will put their child through a series of questionnaires and checklists. An ASD diagnosis helps the families of autistic people understand their needs and how best they can support them.
For an adult who has lived for years with the condition, a diagnosis of ASD could finally answer any questions theyve had for most of their lives. Theyll understand why they find doing certain things harder than most people or find it challenging to communicate with people or be comfortable in social settings.
Health Professionals Your Child May See During The Assessment Process
- Paediatrician â a medical doctor with special training and skills in children and their diseases. A developmental paediatrician specialises in child development and behaviour.
- Child and adolescent psychiatrist â a medical doctor with special training in treating children and teenagers with mental illness.
- Psychologists â an allied health professional trained to assess and treat mental health and behavioural problems.
- Speech pathologist â an allied health professional who assesses and treats speech, language and communication disorders.
- Occupational therapist â an allied health professional trained to assess and support people with physical, sensory, or cognitive problems and help them regain their independence.
- Social worker â An allied health professional trained to assist people and families manage difficulties. This could be through a combination of counselling and practical support.
Common Signs Of Autism
Some of the more common signs that may indicate a person has autism include:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Delayed speech and communication skills
- Reliance on rules and routines
- Being upset by relatively minor changes
- Unexpected reactions to sounds, tastes, sights, touch and smells
- Difficulty understanding other peopleÃ¢â¬â¢s emotions
- Focusing on or becoming obsessed by a narrow range of interests or objects
- Engaging in repetitive behavior such as flapping hands or rocking
- Children not responding to their name by 12 months
- Children not pointing at distant objects by 14 months
Worried you or someone you know might have some of the signs of autism? The Ada app can help you check symptoms. or find out more about how it works.
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Finding Someone Qualified To Evaluate Adults With Asd
Currently, there are relatively few clinicians who specialize in evaluating and treating adults with autism. Nor do we have established criteria to objectively judge such qualifications.
In my opinion, your best bet may be a developmental pediatrician, child psychiatrist or pediatric neurologist who is both experienced in evaluating autism in children and open to seeing older patients. So I would recommend talking to the clinician who diagnosed your child. If she or he does not feel qualified to evaluate an adult, he or she may have a respected colleague who would be.
Otherwise I would recommend contacting an established and respected autism center in your area. Examples include the centers in the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network. This will provide you with the assurance that the clinician has agreed to adhere to the centers high standards for care for patients with autism, regardless of age.
Thanks again for your question. I hope this information helps and that youll let us know how youre doing.
Signs Of Autism In Older Children And Teens
Although autism spectrum disorder can reliably be diagnosed from the age of two or three years old, many children do not receive a diagnosis until they are older. Milder symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder who are higher functioning may not be recognized until they are in school.
Autism is a spectrum condition, which means that children will have different experiences of day-to-day living. Children who are more than five years old and on into their teenage years, who have mild symptoms and are towards the higher functioning range of the autism spectrum, may:
- Develop a narrow range of interests or obsessions with certain topics
- Engage in repetitive behavior such as hand flapping, twirling or snapping a rubber band
- Not make eye contact
- Use formal language rather than the slang of their peers
- Place great importance on routines and rules
- Develop strong preferences for certain foods, clothes or objects
Children who have more severe symptoms and are towards the lower functioning range of the autism spectrum may:
- Not use speech at all
- Become extremely distressed at changes to routine
- Exhibit challenging behavior, such as being aggressive or banging head on wall
- Need assistance with everyday living, such as bathing and dressing
- Engage in repetitive behaviors, such as rocking
- Insist on rules and routine
- Develop rigid preferences for certain foods, clothes or objects
- Need specialized diets
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Which Treatment Strategies May Help Children With Autism
The main treatment for autism is called applied behavioral analysis . This is a behavioral program that breaks actions and behaviors down into small steps. It encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors. Other treatments include occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, and strategies to improve communication, such as using pictures that children can point at to let caregivers know what they want.
Heres the thing: ABA and the other treatments are helpful for children with developmental problems, no matter what their cause. There is no downside to doing them even if the child ultimately is found to have a different problem or no problem at all. They are good for the child with autism, the child with a language disability, or a late bloomer. Yes, its hard for parents to hear a diagnosis of autism. But there is much reason for hope when it comes to autism, and we should never waste time when a child needs help.
The CDCs Act Early campaign has a whole host of resources to help parents and caregivers know if a child is developing normally, or if there might be a problem. If you think there is a problem, ask for help. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
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Challenging Behaviors In Autism
People with autism spectrum disorder may exhibit behaviors which put themselves at risk, cause difficulties for people around them or which are not socially acceptable.
Around 50 percent of people with autism engage in behavior that can cause themselves harm when they feel frustrated, overwhelmed or unwell. Such behaviors can include:
- Banging their head on walls or other objects
- Hitting themselves, e.g. hitting their head with their hands
- Poking themselves in the eye
- Pulling their hair
- Biting themselves
- Smearing feces
A person with autism who feels frustrated, overwhelmed or feeling unwell may also display physically aggressive behavior. This can include:
- Throwing objects
- Hitting, slapping or biting other people
- Pulling other peopleÃ¢â¬â¢s hair
Some people with autism eat objects that are not edible, or keep the objects in their mouth, a behavior known as pica. It is the most common eating disorder found in people with autism spectrum disorder. People may eat anything, including dirt or soap.
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Learn Everything About Your Teen
Most parents do this anyway . But if your teen is autistic and youre not sure what to do, ask them!
Keep an open conversation going with your teen. Ask them to tell you what theyre thinking or write down their thoughts.
If your teen may not have the verbal or writing capacities to share their thoughts or emotions with you, its crucial to observe their behavior and take note of what might trigger certain behavioral responses.
Find what does work to help minimize behaviors that may be disruptive or challenge their ability to get the most out of the resources they have access to.
If you believe their behavior is disruptive or hindering their ability to succeed in ways that theyve expressed interest, try to minimize those triggers or help your teen find coping mechanisms.
Here are some ideas:
- Bright lights a trigger? Keep the lights dim in your home.
- Loud noises disrupt their focus or overstimulate their senses? Buy them some noise-canceling headphones or earplugs.
- Is your teen feeling intense emotion? Give them space, and be understanding. Dont yell, make them feel ashamed, or respond with hurtful language or violence.
Support For Adults With Autism
Adults arent generally given the same support as children with ASD. Sometimes adults with ASD may be treated with cognitive, verbal, and applied behavioral therapy. More often, youll need to seek out specific support based on the challenges youre experiencing .
Some possibilities include:
- seeing a psychiatrist experienced in autism for medical evaluation
- consulting a social worker or psychologist for group and individual therapy
- getting counseling on an ongoing basis
- getting vocational rehabilitation
- taking prescription medication for symptoms like anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues that may occur alongside ASD
Many adults with autism have found support through online groups and forums, as well as by connecting in person with other adults on the autism spectrum.
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Where To Get An Assessment
There are a number of government-funded services that specialise in the assessment and diagnosis of autism. You can contact these teams directly, but you may need a referral from your GP.
There are also private practitioners and organisations that conduct assessments on a fee-paying basis. These services can be accessed via a referral from a health care professional, or you may be able to refer yourself directly.
Quick tip:It is important that you are assessed by a qualified professional with a comprehensive understanding of autism across ages and genders, and practical experience with the assessment and diagnosis process.
To learn more about professionals experienced in the assessment and diagnosis of autism, go to our Support and services section.
Restrictive / Repetitive Behaviors May Include:
- Repeating certain behaviors or having unusual behaviors. For example, repeating words or phrases, a behavior called echolalia
- Having a lasting intense interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details, or facts
- Having overly focused interests, such as with moving objects or parts of objects
- Getting upset by slight changes in a routine
- Being more or less sensitive than other people to sensory input, such as light, noise, clothing, or temperature
People with ASD may also experience sleep problems and irritability. Although people with ASD experience many challenges, they may also have many strengths, including:
- Being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time
- Being strong visual and auditory learners
- Excelling in math, science, music, or art
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Be Consistent And Supportive
Autism doesnt go away or get better. It represents your teens:
Its crucial to be there for your teen as they experience not only the typical struggles of being a teen but also the added pressure to conform to neurotypical standards.
Consistency in maintaining a positive, accepting environment can be an enormous influence on the direction of their lives well past the teen years.
Helping your teen learn certain life skills or behaviors they may have difficulty mastering can also be a form of support. To build skills in these areas, you can:
- See a psychologist or psychiatrist who can help your teen work through personal challenges. They can also prescribe medications for anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder , or other conditions that may affect your teens sense of personal fulfillment or be perceived as disruptive.
- See a speech pathologist to help with any communication challenges, or do speech therapy.
- See a behavioral specialist to help with routines, activities, or habits that may be disruptive to activities your teen wants to do.
- See a dietitian who may be able to help optimize your teens diet or supplement intake to reduce their experience of challenging behaviors or emotions.
Treatments For Affective Disorders
There are two main treatments for affective disorders: medication and therapy. Treatment usually involves a combination of both.
There are many antidepressant medications available. You may need to try several before you find one that helps relieve your symptoms without too many side effects.
Psychotherapy in addition to medication is also an important part of treatment. It can help you learn to cope with your disorder and possibly change behaviors that contribute to it.
In addition to therapy and medications, supplemental approaches may be used to help treat some types of depression. These include vitamin D supplements and light therapy, which is supplied by specialized lamps.
Talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter supplements for your condition.
Your doctor may also recommend certain lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, a consistent sleep schedule, and a healthy diet. These can help complement your medical treatments, but shouldnt replace them.
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Talking With Other People About Your Childs Autism Diagnosis
Talking about your childs autism diagnosis with other people might feel strange or hard at first. You might wonder who to tell and what to say. These decisions are up to you and your child but getting things out in the open can really help you and your child. It can also help others to better understand your child.
What Does Research On Autism Tell Us
A recent study focused on this question. Researchers looked at more than 1,200 toddlers who had at least two developmental evaluations between 12 and 36 months. Less than 2% of the toddlers initially thought to have autism were subsequently thought to have normal development. And on the flip side, 24% initially thought to not have autism were then later diagnosed as having it. So while the picture is not always clear at first, once the diagnosis is made, it usually sticks.
At what age can the diagnosis be reliably made? At 12 to 13 months the diagnostic stability of the autism diagnosis meaning the degree to which it was certain and stuck was about 50%. This went up to 80% by 14 months, and 83% by 16 months. This makes sense if you think about the development of a toddler. At 12 months, they are just starting to say words, respond to commands, and interact with others. So a child who isnt reliably doing those things would be cut some slack. But by 18 months, all those skills should be solidly in place, raising alarm bells about a child who doesnt have them.
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Other Signs Of Autism
You may also have other signs, like:
- not understanding social “rules”, such as not talking over people
- avoiding eye contact
- getting too close to other people, or getting very upset if someone touches or gets too close to you
- noticing small details, patterns, smells or sounds that others do not
- having a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities
- liking to plan things carefully before doing them
Is There A Test For Asd In Adults
Clinicians have developed different tests that can help diagnose ASD in adults. These include diagnostic tests such as ADOS 2 Module 4, ADI-R, and 3Di Adult.
However, it is not clear how reliable these tests are for adults. The reasons for this include:
- Researchers who look at the reliability of ASD tests often use a small number of study participants.
- Not many research studies on testing for adult ASD include enough participants from historically underserved groups, such as People of Color or people who are LGBTQIA+. This means the results of studies looking at ASD testing methods may not represent a true population of autistic adults.
- Many clinicians may not be familiar with the signs of ASD in adulthood. This is especially true if the patientâs symptoms are not severe or if the patient also has other conditions, for example, anxiety.
Autistic people may have of co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety or depression, than those in the general population.
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Autism Symptoms In Adults
Classic symptoms of autism in children are not always present in adults on the spectrum, especially in those underdiagnosed as children . Adults on the spectrum commonly exhibit symptoms related to social and communication difficulties, repetitive behaviors, sensory processing difficulties, and issues with executive function and theory of mind. Short descriptions and lists of common symptoms in adults are listed below .
Where To Get An Adult Autism Diagnosis
It can be a challenge to find a mental health professional who can evaluate adults for ASD. To find one, the non-profit ASD organization Autism Speaks suggests looking for a developmental pediatrician, a child psychiatrist, or a pediatric neurologist who specializes in autism and would consider evaluating an adult. You might also look for a local autism center with a good reputation. One option: a center that belongs to the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network.
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Who Diagnoses Asd In Adults
For adults who think they may be on the spectrum, the first step could be to consult their primary care physician. They can refer you to a specialist if need be.
There are a couple of professionals that can diagnose adults with ASD:
- Psychiatrists or other medical doctors who are experienced in ASD,
- psychologists and neuropsychologists,
- licensed clinical social workers
can diagnose autism in adults.
If none are available, developmental pediatricians, child psychiatrists or pediatric neurologists who are both experienced in evaluating children with autism and open to seeing adults could be an option.
They may also have colleagues that they can refer the patient to.
Another option to get a diagnosis could be contacting an established autism center in the area.
This way the adult with ASD could have access to information and referrals to clinicians who are familiar with adults with ASD.