- Posted by Caravel Autism Health
- On February 18, 2019
- 0 Comments
Thanks to greater awareness, parents today are better equipped to recognize signs that a child may be on the autism spectrum. Behaviors like lack of eye contact, lack of language, walking on tiptoes, flapping of the hands, rocking the body, or having unusually strong sensory reactions can be red flags.
When autism is suspected, the single most important thing parents can do is to get their child assessed by a qualified diagnostician. The earlier a diagnosis can be made, the better. Why? Because early intensive therapy can retrain neuropathways in the young brain. This retraining optimizes brain development and helps children with autism communicate better and reach their full potential.
If a parent suspects that a child has autism, the parent should seek out a complete assessment from a qualified professional. The clinical interview and assessment should be performed by a highly qualified diagnostician. Generally speaking, the diagnostician should have a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, Neuropsychology or Psychiatry. He or she should also have specialized training in childhood development and in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder.
What to Expect
A professional evaluation is a multi-faceted process that involves information gathering, interviews with parents and/or caregivers, and firsthand observation of the child. At Caravel Autism Health, we invite parents to complete on-line questionnaires that help the diagnostician obtain additional information used in the diagnostic process in addition to direct observation of the child at the appointment and during parent interviews. The diagnostician will collect input and data during a “deep dive” into all of the following areas:
The diagnostician will begin by gathering basic information about the child and his or her family. Specific data will be collected such as the child’s date of birth, current age, gender and ages of siblings, family structure, and school or daycare involvement, if any.
Next, the diagnostician will review the medical history of the child and family, collecting information about primary care physician, medication use, allergies, and diseases that run in the family. Since there’s consensus among mainstream researchers that genetics plays a significant role in most autism cases, it’s important for the diagnostician to know whether other family members have been diagnosed with autism or have experienced developmental delays, mental health problems, or issues with alcohol or drug use.
Birth and early development
Sometimes the circumstances surrounding a child’s birth are a factor in development. For example, some children who experienced a loss of oxygen to the brain during birth later exhibit signs of autism as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. For that reason, information is gathered about the length of gestation, whether the child’s birth was vaginal or via caesarean section, and whether complications occurred.
At Caravel Autism Health, we often see young children who have been diagnosed with conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder or aggression. In many cases, these children have been placed on medications like mood stabilizers or antipsychotic medications to manage their conditions. It’s not uncommon for our autism health specialists to discover during evaluation that the underlying problem is autism spectrum disorder.
Because children with autism have difficulty understanding the complex verbal and social world, they behave differently than neurotypical children. Most lack the skills to navigate the complexities of the verbal and social world. They have trouble understanding and relating to this world, so they solve their problems as best they can. Their “solution” is often misinterpreted as hyperactivity, inattentiveness or a mood disorder.
Sensory and tolerance issues
During the clinical interview and assessment, the autism health specialist will also gather information about sensory and tolerance issues. Many children with developmental delays have sound sensitivities. Some will “tune out” the adults in the room, focusing instead on an object of interest. It’s also common for children with developmental delays to become entranced by objects that move or sparkle. The diagnostician will also ask questions about sensitivities related to smell, taste or touch. Some children with autism have unusually strong reactions to smells or to the feel of certain types of fabric on their skin.
Information will also be gathered on the child’s gross and fine motor skills, as well as speech ability. Telltale signs like hand flapping and toe walking are some of the most easily recognizable signs of developmental delays and diffuse neurological dysfunction. Many children with autism rock, jump and spin excessively. It’s not uncommon for a child who is on the spectrum to have difficulty making certain speech sounds. The diagnostician will also determine whether the child has mastered age-appropriate daily living skills like dressing, undressing and performing personal hygiene tasks.
Play and social behavior
From there, the specialist will assess the child’s ability to function and participate in the verbal and social world. Does the child play with toys in a socially appropriate way? Does he or she understand what to do with those specific objects? Or is the child engaging in simplified play? Rather than knowing what to do with a toy, children with autism will often line up or sort objects instead of playing with them as a simplified form of play. The specialist will ask about the child’s interaction with peers. Does the child make eye contact with children his or her age? Or does the child retreat from interacting with peers?
Other important areas for exploration include whether the child exhibits ritualized patterns of behavior, whether the child is motivated by and pays attention to the verbal and social world, how well the child uses verbal expression to communicate, as well as executive functioning and mood.
Most of the time, the diagnostician is able to tell parents at the end of the appointment whether the child is on the autism spectrum. The diagnostician can also provide information about areas of support that the child needs and recommendations for treatment. If additional testing is needed, the family is invited to return for a follow-up appointment and additional testing. The diagnostician dictates and mails a comprehensive written report to the parents and the child’s pediatrician or family doctor within a couple of weeks.
Obtaining the proper diagnosis is the first step to helping a child who may be living with autism. If you believe that your child may be on the spectrum, please click here to take our free Pediatric Development Screener.