There is no lab test to determine whether a child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). How you get an autism diagnosis comes down to a doctor or other medical professional’s examination of the child’s developmental history and behavior through close monitoring and analysis.
Parents or caregivers can play an integral role in helping their child receive a diagnosis. For example, they can create a checklist of important milestones – their child’s first word, their first non-family interaction, and so on.
If the parent or caregiver notices that their child is lagging or not meeting these milestones at all, they can contact a developmental specialist or psychologist. The doctor will conduct a thorough exam and make a diagnosis, or schedule an appointment with another doctor for certainty.
Therapeutic Pathways does not diagnose children, but we do provide many services for those who are diagnosed already. Our focus is on helping each child with ASD develop alongside their peers and grow to be the best, most independent version of themselves.
Getting an Autism Diagnosis
Because there is currently no lab test for autism, doctors rely on observation and parental concerns to diagnose children with ASD. The process begins with typical visits with your child’s pediatrician.
Each child seen by a pediatrician should receive an assessment for autism and other developmental disorders at their typical 18 and 24-month check-ups. The pediatrician will observe the child and talk with them. They’ll also speak with the parent or caregiver to find out if the child met certain milestones, such as smiling by six months and mimicking facial expressions by nine months.
They’ll probably also ask questions such as:
- Does your child have trouble making eye contact?
- Does your child engage in particularly unusual or repetitive behaviors?
- Does your child understand other people’s actions or emotions?
- Is your child sensitive or respond badly to light, noise, or temperature?
- Does your child speak in a flat or monotone voice?
These questions help the pediatrician understand where your child is in their development. If there seems to be an issue or delay, they will refer you to a specialist for testing.
If you are referred, you’ll probably see a group of specialists. These typically include a child psychologist and speech pathologist. Depending on the circumstances, you may also meet with a developmental pediatrician or child neurologist.
During this evaluation, the specialist will check your child’s cognitive and language abilities, as well as typical self-care tasks like going to the bathroom and getting dressed. Of course, some children may have difficulty performing these tasks but do not have autism. To receive an autism diagnosis, your child must meet the following criteria:
- They have problems with communication, speech, and social interaction. Children with ASD have trouble connecting with others and expressing how they feel. They may be unable to pick up on others’ feelings or read social cues. This can cause great frustration for them as they reach school age and try to interact with others.
- They engage in repetitive behavior and have restricted interests. Children with ASD may flap their hands, rock back and forth, fidget with objects or toys, or repeat certain words or phrases. Scientists believe these behaviors may be an act of self-stimulation, but more research needs to be done.
If your child exhibits these behaviors and meets the criteria as stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the specialist can make a diagnosis. You may then seek treatment or therapy options for your child.
Once Your Child is Diagnosed, Call Us
Some children with autism are diagnosed at 18 months or earlier. Others receive a diagnosis around age two, and others may not be diagnosed until they begin school or even later. The best way for your child to develop alongside their peers and lead a satisfying, independent life is to get them treatment as soon as possible.
At Therapeutic Pathways, we provide intensive, compassionate care for children of all ages with autism. Although we cannot diagnose children, we do give them the skills and confidence to achieve more than they thought possible. Contact Therapeutic Pathways at (209) 422-3280 to learn more about our treatment options and ABA therapy.