Getting An Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis
The road to an ASD diagnosis can be difficult and time-consuming. In fact, it is often two to three years after the first symptoms of ASD are noticed before an official diagnosis is made. This is due in large part to concerns about labeling or incorrectly diagnosing the child. However, an ASD diagnosis can also be delayed if the doctor doesnt take a parents concerns seriously or if the family isnt referred to health care professionals who specialize in developmental disorders.
If youre worried that your child has ASD, its important to seek out a clinical diagnosis. But dont wait for that diagnosis to get your child into treatment. Early intervention during the preschool years will improve your childs chances for overcoming their developmental delays. So look into treatment options and try not to worry if youre still waiting on a definitive diagnosis. Putting a potential label on your kids problem is far less important than treating the symptoms.
How Autism Spectrum Disorders Are Described
Psychiatrists and other clinicians rely on the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to define autism and its symptoms. The DSM-5 definition recognizes two main symptom areas:
- Deficits in social communication and interaction
- Restricted, repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities
These symptoms appear early in a childs developmentalthough diagnosis may occur later. Autism is diagnosed when symptoms cause developmental challenges that are not better explained by other conditions.
The definition of autism has been refined over the years. Between 1995 and 2011, the DSM-IV grouped Aspergers Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified with autism. Aspergers syndrome was an autism spectrum disorder marked by strong verbal language skills and, often, high intellectual ability. PDD-NOS was a more general diagnosis for people who did not fit clearly into the other two categories.
However, the DSM-5 no longer recognizes Aspergers syndrome or PDD-NOS as separate diagnoses. Individuals who would previously have received either of these diagnoses may now receive a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder instead.
Do Symptoms Of Autism Change Over Time
For many children, symptoms improve with age and behavioral treatment. During adolescence, some children with ASD may become depressed or experience behavioral problems, and their treatment may need some modification as they transition to adulthood. People with ASD usually continue to need services and supports as they get older, but depending on severity of the disorder, people with ASD may be able to work successfully and live independently or within a supportive environment.
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Repetitive And Restrictive Behaviour
With its unwritten rules, the world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place to autistic people. This is why they often prefer to have routines so that they know what is going to happen. They may want to travel the same way to and from school or work, wear the same clothes or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.
Autistic people may also repeat movements such as hand flapping, rocking or the repetitive use of an object such as twirling a pen or opening and closing a door. Autistic people often engage in these behaviours to help calm themselves when they are stressed or anxious, but many autistic people do it because they find it enjoyable.
Change to routine can also be very distressing for autistic people and make them very anxious. It could be having to adjust to big events like Christmas or changing schools, facing uncertainty at work, or something simpler like a bus detour that can trigger their anxiety.
How Common Is Autism
Autism is always present from birth, but it might not be recognised or diagnosed until adulthood. Early intervention, in the form of support for their individual needs, can be helpful for autistic children.
Even if you arent diagnosed until adulthood, getting a diagnosis can be very helpful for identifying your strengths and the things you struggle with, and finding support.
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What Are The Different Types Of Autism
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition is published by the American Psychiatric Association . Clinicians use it to diagnose a variety of psychiatric disorders.
The most recent fifth edition of the DSM was released in 2013. The DSM-5 currently recognizes five different ASD subtypes, or specifiers. They are:
- with or without accompanying intellectual impairment
- with or without accompanying language impairment
- associated with a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor
- associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioral disorder
Someone can receive a diagnosis of one or more specifiers.
Before the DSM-5, autistic people may have received a diagnosis of:
- autistic disorder
- pervasive development disorder-not otherwise specified
- childhood disintegrative disorder
Its important to note that a person who received one of these earlier diagnoses has not lost their diagnosis and will not need to be reevaluated.
How Is Autism Diagnosed
It can be hard to get a definite diagnosis of autism. Your doctor will focus on behavior and development.
For children, diagnosis usually takes two steps.
- A developmental screening will tell your doctor whether your child is on track with basic skills like learning, speaking, behavior, and moving. Experts suggest that children be screened for these developmental delays during their regular checkups at 9 months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months of age. Children are routinely checked specifically for autism at their 18-month and 24-month checkups.
- If your child shows signs of a problem on these screenings, theyâll need a more complete evaluation. This might include hearing and vision tests or genetic tests. Your doctor might want to bring in someone who specializes in autism disorders, like a developmental pediatrician or a child psychologist. Some psychologists can also give a test called the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule .
If you werenât diagnosed with autism as a child but notice yourself showing signs or symptoms, talk to your doctor.
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Meet Lauryn 7 Through The Words Of Her Mom Veronica
My daughter, Lauryn, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder last year. As a result of Lauryns autism, she has difficulties with speech and comprehension. Even with those struggles, she is still able to socialize to some degree and make new friends because of her outgoing nature. Being able to persevere through adversity at such a young age is a testament to Lauryns strong will.
Before Lauryn was diagnosed, I honestly knew nothing about autism. I didnt understand it or know how it would impact my daughters life, so I knew I needed help. This is when I found Autism Speaks. Not only did they provide me with so much information and the resources to put my daughter on the right path in life, but they also provided access to a community of people who were dealing with similar things. That kind of support is priceless.
I am so proud of how much Lauryn has grown since her diagnosis. Sharing her story during Disability Pride Month is important to me because I know what it is like to have a child with autism. Life on the spectrum takes a lot of time and patience, not only for the person with autism but for the family as well. Sometimes it can be discouraging when you feel like you arent doing enough, but just know youre doing your best. I want to make sure other autism families out there know that they have a community of support behind them.
Success In Autistic Adults
Some adults with diagnosed autism are moderately to highly successful people. Some are happily married and partnered, and many are fully employed.
Some have even become role models for young adults on the spectrum who hope to live full, independent lives. Just a few such role models include:
- Temple Grandin, animal husbandry expert, author, and public speaker
- Stephen Shore, author, musician, professor, public speaker
- John Elder Robison, author, and public speaker
- Dan Ackroyd, actor, singer, radio personality
- Daryl Hannah, actor
These individuals, in addition to some others, are active autism advocates. Many speak publicly about their experiences and offer resources and insights to autistic adults and their family members.
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Examples Of Autism In A Sentence
autism Country Livingautism Sun Sentinelautism Varietyautism New York Timesautism Forbesautism San Diego Union-Tribuneautism Baltimore Sunautism Washington Post
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word ‘autism.’ Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
Social Communication And Social Interaction Challenges
Autistic people have difficulties with interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice. Some autistic people are unable to speak or have limited speech while other autistic people have very good language skills but struggle to understand sarcasm or tone of voice. Other challenges include:
- taking things literally and not understanding abstract concepts
- needing extra time to process information or answer questions
- repeating what others say to them
Autistic people often have difficulty ‘reading’ other people – recognising or understanding others’ feelings and intentions – and expressing their own emotions. This can make it very hard to navigate the social world. Autistic people may:
- appear to be insensitive
- seek out time alone when overloaded by other people
- not seek comfort from other people
- appear to behave ‘strangely’ or in a way thought to be socially inappropriate
- find it hard to form friendships.
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How Is Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosed
There are no laboratory tests to determine ASD. However, certain healthcare providers receive specific training and can do screenings and evaluations if needed and who might ask parents or teachers to record observations. These providers might include specialized physicians, psychologists and speech-language pathologists.
Being On The Spectrum Can Mean A Wide Variety Of Experiences
Autism is described as a spectrum of disorders for a reason. Signs of autism can present differently.
Some individuals will have significant behavior and communication challenges that make the possibility of an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis more likely.
In other cases, caregivers may notice occasional atypical behaviors but that dont immediately cause them to seek a full behavioral health evaluation.
In the latter scenario, a child may never have their autism diagnosed or addressed therapeutically. Its possible that mildly-expressed forms of ASD behavior go completely unnoticed.
But another possibility is that an undiagnosed child or their caregiver will feel frustrated by a lack of explanation for certain behavioral events. They may struggle with socialization, for instance, or they may lack commitment to extracurricular activities.
Ignoring the possibility of an autism diagnosis, especially if a child seems mostly neurotypical, can make it more difficult for them to adjust and have their needs met. For this reason, teachers and caregivers who observe subtle signs of ASD should speak with a mental health professional.
A childs parents, teachers, and others with a direct role in their life are the best observers when it comes to picking up on a possible autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Only a licensed mental health professional can come to a full, accurate diagnosis, but you dont have to be a professional to suspect that an ASD diagnosis is possible.
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Level : Requires Very Substantial Support
Level 3 is the most severe form of autism. Children in this category will have many of the same behaviors as those with levels 1 and 2, but to a more extreme degree.
Problems expressing themselves both verbally and nonverbally can make it very hard to function, interact socially, and deal with a change in focus or location. Engaging in repetitive behaviors is another symptom of level 3 ASD.
A person with ASD level 3 will have a very limited ability to speak clearly and will rarely start interactions with other people. When they do, they will do so awkwardly. Someone with level 3 will also respond only to very direct social approaches from other people.
Autism Symptoms In Adults At Home
Other peoples feelings baffle you. You have a collection of figurines on your desk that must be in the same order at all times. These, and other common manifestations of ASD, may be apparent in adults at home:
- Your family members lovingly refer to you as the eccentric professor of the family, even though you dont work in academia.
- Youve always wanted a best friend, but never found one.
- You often invent your own words and expressions to describe things.
- Even when youre in a quiet place, like the library, you find yourself making involuntary noises like clearing your throat over and over.
- You follow the same schedule every day of the week, and dont like unexpected events.
- Expressions like, Curiosity killed the cat or Dont count your chickens before they hatch are confusing to you.
- You are always bumping into things and tripping over your own feet.
- In your leisure time, you prefer to play individual games and sports, like golf, where everyone works for themselves instead of working toward a common goal on a team.
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Autism Symptoms And Behaviors
Individuals with autism may present a range of symptoms, such as:
- Reduced eye contact
- Not engaging in imaginative play
- Repeating gestures or sounds
- Closely focused interests
- Indifference to temperature extremes
These are just a few examples of the symptoms an individual with autism may experience. Any individual could have some, all, or none of these symptoms. Keep in mind that having these symptoms does not necessarily mean a person has autism. Only a qualified medical professional can diagnose autism spectrum disorder.
Most importantly, an individual with autism is first and foremost an individual. Learning about the symptoms can help you start to understand the behaviors and challenges related to autism, but thats not the same as getting to know the individual. Each person with autism has their own strengths, likes, dislikes, interests, challenges, and skills, just like you do.
Problems With Communication And Social Interaction
ASD can involve a range of issues with communication, many of which appear before age 5.
Heres a general timeline of what this might look like:
- From birth: trouble maintaining eye contact
- not responding to their name
- not displaying facial expressions reflective of their emotions
- : not engaging in basic interactive games, like peek-a-boo or pat-a-cake
- not using hand gestures, like hand-waving
- not sharing their interests with others
- not pointing or looking where others point
- not noticing when others appear sad or hurt
- not engaging in pretend play, like caring for a baby doll or playing with figurines
- not playing turn-taking games, like duck-duck goose
Additionally, autistic children might have trouble expressing their feelings or understanding those of others starting at 36 months.
As they age, they might have difficulty talking or very limited speaking skills. Other autistic children might develop language skills at an uneven pace. If theres a particular topic thats very interesting to them, for example, they might develop a very strong vocabulary for talking about that one topic. But they might have difficulty communicating about other things.
As autistic children begin talking, they might also talk in an unusual tone that can range from high-pitched and sing-songy to robotic or flat.
While hyperlexia does not always accompany autism, research suggests nearly 84 percent of children with hyperlexia are on the spectrum.
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Related Signs And Symptoms Of Autism Spectrum Disorder
While not part of autisms official diagnostic criteria, children with autism spectrum disorders often suffer from one or more of the following problems:
Sensory problems Many children with autism spectrum disorders either underreact or overreact to sensory stimuli. At times they may ignore people speaking to them, even to the point of appearing deaf. However, at other times they may be disturbed by even the softest sounds. Sudden noises such as a ringing telephone can be upsetting, and they may respond by covering their ears and making repetitive noises to drown out the offending sound. Children on the autism spectrum also tend to be highly sensitive to touch and to texture. They may cringe at a pat on the back or the feel of certain fabric against their skin.
Emotional difficulties Children with autism spectrum disorders may have difficulty regulating their emotions or expressing them appropriately. For instance, your child may start to yell, cry, or laugh hysterically for no apparent reason. When stressed, they may exhibit disruptive or even aggressive behavior . The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities also notes that kids with ASD may be unfazed by real dangers like moving vehicles or heights, yet be terrified of harmless objects such as a stuffed animal.
Savant skills in autism spectrum disorder
How Is Autism Treated
Thereâs no cure for autism. But early treatment can make a big difference in development for a child with autism. If you think your child shows symptoms of ASD, tell your doctor as soon as possible.
What works for one person might not work for another. Your doctor should tailor treatment for you or your child. The two main types of treatments are:
- Behavioral and communication therapy to help with structure and organization. Applied behavior analysis is one of these treatments it promotes positive behavior and discourages negative behavior. Occupational therapy can help with life skills like dressing, eating, and relating to people. Sensory integration therapy might help someone who has problems with being touched or with sights or sounds. Speech therapy improves communication skills.
- Medications to help with symptoms of ASD, like attention problems, hyperactivity, or anxiety.
Complementary treatments may help boost learning and communication skills in some people with autism. Complementary therapies include music, art, or animal therapy, like horseback riding and even swimming with dolphins.
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