I mentioned earlier that diagnosis is not easy because there are no blood tests or simple medical procedures. Diagnosis depends on a broad but specific group of symptoms and requires direct observation combined with expert examination and assessment, as well as input from parents, teachers, and other caregivers. Autism symptoms exist across a spectrum and must be differentiated from other developmental disorders or mental health issues.
Autism Speaks' Autism Treatment Network or Autism Speaks Resource Guide are available to help anyone find services in their area, both in Canada and the US.
Ideally, on the assessment team there should be a developmental pediatrician, psychiatrist, or neurologist; a psychologist with autism expertise; a speech and language pathologist; and an Occupational Therapist. A physical exam should focus on possible medical or genetic issues that could be associated with symptoms. A psychologist can administer developmental and cognitive tests. Communication and social skills are typically evaluated by a Speech and Language Pathologist. Occupational Therapist can assess sensory and motor problems.
In an earlier blog, I discussed symptoms that developed most commonly in the 12-18 month age group, but there are signs of possible EARLY Autism. And these are:
-by 6 months of age, no social smiles or other warm or joyful expressions directed at people
-by 6 months limited or no eye contact
-by 9 months no sharing of vocal sounds, smiles, other non-verbal communication
-by 12 months no babbling
-by 12 months no use of gestures (pointing, waving, reaching)
-by 12 months no response when name is called
-by 16 months no words
-by 24 months no meaningful 2 word phrases
-by 24 months, any loss of previously acquired speech, babbling, or social skills
Pediatricians and Family Physicians usually screen for Autism at the 18 and 24 month Well Child Checkups. This screening tool/questionnaire is an MCHAT-R. Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers -revised. However, screening can be requested ANYTIME from your physician or any early intervention program. The MCHAT can also be accessed on line, filled out at home, and taken to your doctor.
If developmental delays or learning challenges are identified, you don't need a diagnosis of Autism to access early intervention services. START ASAP. For example, with language delay, the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome, generally speaking that it. Ignore the "he/she will grow out of it" advice!! Get on it!
Some genetic stuff coming up...and it's confusing...but interesting!