Diagnosing autism in children is important for treating the disorder. The tests for diagnosing autism are comprehensive and include neurological and genetic assessments. Specialist doctors from different disciplines help in autism diagnosis. Read on to know more about the diagnostic tests.
Two stage processes are involved in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children. The first stage comprises of developmental screening checkups and the second stage consists of a comprehensive evaluation of the child by a multidisciplinary team of specialist doctors. Diagnosing autism in children includes neurological and genetic assessments combined with in-depth cognitive and language testing.
The severity of autism symptoms may vary from child to child. In case of children suffering from some other debilitating handicaps autism may even go unnoticed completely. A certain set of behaviour normally indicates possibility of a child suffering from this disorder. These include:
Impaired ability to make friends with peers
Difficulty in initiating or maintaining conversations with others
Absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
Unusual or repetitive use of language
Fixation or attachment to a particular toy or object
Sticking to routines or rituals and resistance to change of any kind
Diagnosing Autism in Children
Questionnaires and a number of such other screening tools are used by doctors to collect information related to a child’s development and behaviour while testing for this disorder. Parent’s observations too are taken into consideration while performing the tests. If the initial screening tests indicate the possibility of a child suffering from autism doctors carry out a detailed evaluation including interviewing parents and caregivers.
Instruments for Screening Autism in Children
A number of screening instruments have been developed to gather information about a child's social and communicative development within medical settings. Some of these screening instruments are:
CHAT- Checklist of Autism in Toddlers
M-CHAT-Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers
STAT-Screening Tool for Autism in Two-Year-Olds
SCQ Social Communication Questionnaire for children aged 4 years or above.
Autism is a complex disorder the cause of which may be multiple. Hence, while evaluating a child for autism team of doctors comprising of a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, and such other professionals test the child.
Since children with a hearing problem can exhibit behaviour like delayed speech which can easily be mistaken for autism, before performing the standard tests for autism such children are normally tested for hearing disabilities first.
Autism Related Disorders in Children
In addition to classic autism there are certain other milder versions of this disorder which may be diagnosed at the time of testing. These include:
1. PDD NOS- Children who exhibit only some of the symptoms of autism and not all are known to suffer from PDD-NOS.
2. Children with autistic behaviours but well-developed language skills may be suffering from Asperger syndrome.
3. Children who develop normally up to the age of three and then start showing marked autistic behaviours may be suffering from childhood disintegrative disorder.
4. Rett syndrome affects girls. This is a sex-linked genetic disorder symptoms of which include social withdrawal, regressed language skills, and hand wringing.
While testing a child for autism a lot of emphasis is given to behavioural characteristics. This is a very subjective tool. Another peculiar fact about this syndrome is that while in some children symptoms are apparent almost immediately after birth in others it surfaces a few months after birth. Doctors consider testing a child for autism only if problems are noticed in at least one of the three areas of communication, socialisation, or restricted behaviour before the age of 3.
During the last few years thanks to progress made by medical science a number of screening instruments have been developed to test children for autism. Some of these instruments are extensively used and relied upon for identification of Autism Spectrum disorder in children.
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- The Indiaparenting Team