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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of brain-based disorders that affect a child's behavior, communication, and social skills. Because most children with an ASD will master early motor skills such as sitting, crawling, and walking on time, parents may not initially notice delays in social and communication skills.
ASDs are developmental disorders whose symptoms may change with maturation and intervention. While rare, some children improve so much that they no longer can be considered to have an ASD. Most of these children may have other developmental, learning, language, or behavioral diagnoses.
The sooner an ASD is identified, the sooner an intervention program can start. Each child with autism has different needs. The intervention that helps one child may not be as helpful for another. Starting an intervention program as soon as possible can improve outcomes for many children with an ASD, so children can and should be referred for diagnosis and early intervention (EI) as soon as the ASD symptoms are noted.
No two children with ASD have exactly the same symptoms. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are standard criteria for the diagnosis of ASD. The following are examples of how a child with an ASD may act:
Social differences in children with ASD can vary. Be aware of a child who:
Communication issues may indicate ASD. Be aware of a child who:
Behavioral differences often include repetitive and obsessive behaviors. Pay attention if your child:
Your family doctor or pediatrician should perform routine developmental screening tests at all well child checkups. There is no single test that can verify an ASD. Parents are usually the first to notice potential problems in a child’s development. If you believe your child is slow in developing language or social skills, talk with your pediatrician.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists a number of tests to use in the initial screenings for an ASD. These include:
If screening tests spot problems, then your child will need comprehensive testing by specialists. When an ASD is suspected as a cause of language and social delays, the child should be referred for a full evaluation to determine if an ASD is the proper diagnosis. The evaluation may be done by a doctor or psychologist who has expertise in the diagnosis of ASD or, preferably, by a team of specialists who may include:
Testing of developmental domains may occur through the school system.
Typically, an evaluation will include:
Diagnosis of an ASD is made by applying specific diagnostic criteria using all the information collected by history, observation, and testing.
Qualified school officials can also make what is called an educational diagnosis. This type of diagnosis is used to determine your child’s specific needs and what services can be provided for him or her in a school environment. This diagnosis is not necessarily dependent on a medical diagnosis.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Aug 28, 2014: George Krucik, MD, MBA
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