Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a brain disorder that is usually diagnosed in childhood. This developmental disability is characterized by social, behavioral, and communication challenges. Symptoms vary greatly from child to child, but common signs of autism are limited eye contact, lack of facial expression, and making repetitive movements.
Autism diagnoses have risen dramatically over the years. Currently, about 1 in 59 children have autism spectrum disorder. Early diagnosis of ASD can help parents seek out support and social skills training for their child. However, many kids experience delayed diagnosis.
About 85% of children with autism had notations in their records about developmental issues before age 3. Yet only about 42% of children with autism received a comprehensive developmental evaluation necessary for diagnosis by age 3. Almost 40% of children with autism were not diagnosed until after age 4.
There are many reasons why children are not diagnosed as early as they could be. One of them is that autism is challenging to diagnose. There are no medical tests such as a blood test that can definitively confirm an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.
Because autism is a complex disorder, the diagnosis process is also complicated. A comprehensive evaluation includes:
It’s important for parents and caregivers to be familiar with important developmental milestones such as rolling over and babbling. With careful monitoring, parents can be alerted at the first sign of a possible developmental delay.
Regardless of whether your child is meeting milestones, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends developmental screening to detect autism for all children at 18 and 24 months.
During this evaluation, the physician takes into account the parents’ reports, the developmental screening, psychological testing, and speech and language testing. Sometimes neurological and genetic testing can help rule out other disorders.
Getting a medical diagnosis is the first step to accessing services and support for your child through health insurance.
In most cases, the first signs of autism appear when a child is 2 to 3 years old. However, some signs are apparent in infancy. Symptoms and signs of autism are different for all children. And all children with or without autism have different skills, strengths, and personalities.
The variables in symptoms and children themselves can make diagnosis difficult outside the hands of an experienced physician. A few common reasons while autism diagnosis is delayed include:
Studies show that some children exhibit few or no signs of autism as toddlers. Without apparent signs by 24 months, the typical age for autism screening, your child’s condition may not be diagnosed until later. Also, people tend to think that if you weren’t diagnosed as a child, your autism symptoms are probably due to another health issue.
Often the first sign to a parent or caregiver is when a child misses a milestone. But the truth is that children develop at different rates. Many parents adopt a wait-and-see attitude to watch for whether their child eventually catches up to their peers, as many children do.
Parents may delay finding out the news that their child has autism. There may be shame or embarrassment and even denial when it comes to autism signs and symptoms.
Autism is a spectrum, meaning that there are mild to severe cases of the condition. That’s why it’s called autism spectrum disorder. With some cases, it may be difficult to recognize the symptoms and attribute them to ASD.
Sensory issues and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are conditions that are often associated with autism. If a child presents with ADHD or sensory issues, the physician may stop at that diagnosis and treat the child for those issues instead of an autism diagnosis.
If you have questions about autism signs, diagnosis, and treatment, call Smita Tandon, MD, in Fountain Valley, California, or request an appointment online.