Parents may find diagnosing their children with autism very challenging as many of the symptoms closely relate to those seen in non-autistic children as well. For example one of the most notable symptoms is difficulty or lacking the desire to socialize with others. In non-autistic children this is not necessarily something to worry about in the beginning. It could be that your child is simply shy and has caution and fear about mingling with other children or that they prefer to play alone with their active imaginations.
Other symptoms include a delay in learning how to speak or having difficulty in starting conversations with others. Again, all children develop these skills differently. While some children begin speaking and communicating at a very early age, others struggle with them and it is not always an indication that your child is autistic. Various other biological and neurological issues can also contribute to skills slowly developing.
It is also common for autistic children to have difficulty or the inability to make eye contact or have difficulty in understanding directives given to them. While these things could be caused by a child's age and development happening at a slower pace, they also could be indicators that the child has autism.
Historically this disorder is diagnosed when the child reaches the age of three and a bit older. This is the time when most physicians and parents truly begin to see that their child is not developing normally because by this age socialization, interactive and communication skills should become evident. In some cases a child will be diagnosed at age two particularly if the parents are diligent with the recommended, ongoing check-ups. Still, at that young of an age diagnosing can be challenging because vital skills are not apparent yet.
The diagnosis process begins with watching and observing the child's behaviors and patterns as well as a psychologist or specialist thoroughly interviewing the parents while reviewing the child's developmental history. The interviewing process will investigate both the child's past development as well as current developments.
The therapist will defer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders frequently in order to assess which spectrum your child falls into with Autism and go through the symptoms and characteristics with a fine tooth comb as understanding which spectrum your child falls into is important when it comes to treatment, therapies and supportive services.
Because there is not one sure way to diagnose this disorder, once a parent or physician feels that the child could be a candidate for the disorder, they may use one or several diagnostic tools to diagnose. These include but are not limited to:
• Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)
• Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI)
• Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)
• Developmental Behavior Checklist (DBC)
• Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)
When Is the Right Time to Assess?
It is important that parents get their children assessed and tested as early as possible as this greatly increases the chances of their child receiving the therapies they need and bettering their quality of life sooner.
If you notice that your child is not developing at a normal pace when they are younger than two you can and should certainly have them examined by a physician. However, it is likely that since not all of the skills have yet to develop, that your child may not be diagnosed until they are of toddler age (between 3-6) and in some cases even later in life based on their future development and progression.
If relevant skills such as socialization, communication, eye contact and comprehension are seen as aptly lacking in younger years, it can only help in future diagnosing to have your child examined and tested. At the very least, you will have a record of the testing to utilize later when they are at a more appropriate age to be concretely diagnosed.