Autism Spectrum Disorder isn’t a condition that can be diagnosed with a blood test. So parents can only begin to notice a difference as the child develops. Only a thorough clinical assessment of the child’s behavior can help diagnose Autism. The symptoms start to appear by the age of 18 months, at which point, experienced autism professionals can arrive at a diagnosis. Despite this, often, autistic children may not be diagnosed until they’re much older, or their symptoms are more prominent. Hence, they may not receive the right intervention at the right time.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), states that there are two simple steps to diagnose Autism :
- Developmental Screening
- Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation
What is Developmental Screening?
A screening is a concise test which segregates the target population from the rest. A developmental screening can determine whether a child is able to learn basic age appropriate skills. The examiner may play with the child, to see the way they respond, learn, behave interact & move. They may even ask the parents certain basic questions regarding the child. As compared to a neurotypical, or the reference scores, any delay in these aspects of development could be considered as a red flag.
The CDC advises that all children be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child doctor visits at:
- 9 months
- 18 months
- 24 or 30 months
An additional screening is advised if there are known birth discrepancies such as low birth weight, preterm birth, epilepsy, etc.
It also advises that all children should be screened specifically for ASD during regular check-ups visits at:
- 18 months
- 24 months
- Additional screening is advised if a child is at high risk for ASD, such as having a sister, brother or other family members with an ASD, or has certain associated symptoms of ASD.
What is Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation?
During the screening, if the doctor sees any signs of a problem, a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation is needed. This includes a thorough evaluation of the child’s behavior, development & a detailed interview with the parents. It may also include a hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, neurological testing, and other medical testing.
This further assessment & diagnosis can be done by specialists such as:
- Developmental Pediatricians (doctors who have special training in child development and children with special needs)
- Paediatric Neurologists (doctors who work on the brain, spine, and nerves)
- Paediatric Psychologists or Psychiatrists (doctors who know about the human mind)