I think my child may have autism but I'm not sure. How can I find out?

Thanks to the rise of inclusive media, neurodiversity activism, and public acknowledgment of spectrum disorders, autism has made its way into mainstream consciousness. 

Whether you are noticing minor "quirks" or are seeking an explanation for particular challenges, you are not alone. Thanks to the growing awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), parents are beginning to catch the signs that their child may have autism, need support, and benefit from ABA therapy at an earlier stage.

If you think your child may have autism, any action you take next is an opportunity to meet their needs in ways that were not available to many children in decades past. Acting early increases the chances that your child can succeed in school, progress alongside peers, and live a life independently while uniquely expressing themselves

We’ve put together the following guide to help parents like you make sense of the journey ahead when seeking a possible spectrum diagnosis and deciding what to do next.

ASD Realities: A Closer Look

While we may hear the word ‘autism’ frequently and believe ourselves to be well-informed on the subject, know that there is a fair amount of misinformation, outdated labels, and unfair stereotypes floating around. Each can incorrectly and detrimentally color our understanding of what exactly ASD is, how it presents itself, and how we should respond to it.

Familiarizing yourself with most current understandings of autism and the myriad ways in which it can manifest is a great first step to take. The American Academy of Pediatrics has excellent information to serve as an introduction to the subject. 

Being aware of the specific challenges ASD presents at different ages/points of development helps caregivers formulate a contingent care plan and ready themselves to make level-headed support decisions down the road. Actions they may consider include pursuing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, enrolling their child in alternative schools, and developing parenting strategies.

Early Indicators: Signs That Your Child May Have Autism 

Signs of autism can be detected in children as early as 12-14 months, but a diagnosis comes more reliably around the age of two. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend screening for autism at your toddler’s regular wellness checks by monitoring and evaluating their behavioral and developmental progress. “Learn the signs. Act early.” is the CDC’s campaign for early childhood autism detection.

Caregivers of children on the spectrum often begin noticing developmental delays and atypical social behaviors before the age of three. 

Early indicators of autism may include; 

  • Not responding to their name by the age of 12 months
  • Avoiding eye contact and hugs, seldom seeking comfort
  • Disinterest in other children
  • Reacting poorly to change, different environments, or new foods
  • Painful reactions to certain clothing
  • Sensory differences
  • Repetitive speech and movements
  • Obsession or fixation on certain things
  • Atypical communication (no tone or facial expression)
  • Lack of empathy

Many of these early indicators carry over into adulthood and can become much more difficult to handle if not appropriately addressed. This results in unnecessary distress, failure to thrive, a lack of independence, and low self-esteem. 

On the other hand, a therapeutic approach may allow both children and parents to better process the role ASD plays in their lives, allowing them to develop strategies that can help the child thrive in a variety of real-world situations.

When the Signs Add Up: Seeking Diagnosis

If the evidence leads you to suspect that your child may have autism, the first step is talking to your pediatrician or family GP about your concerns. It can be helpful to keep a behavior journal, making note of the date and detailing the nature of your child’s difficulties and delays so that you can keep track of what to bring up at your doctor’s appointment. Your doctor should be able to refer you to a local specialist that offers neurological screening for spectrum disorders.

A full evaluation and formal diagnosis from a neurologist or developmental pediatrician can provide access to better assistance programs as well as a great deal of insight into the specifics of functional impairment. No two people with autism are alike; they are just as varied as the neurotypical population. Accordingly, different strategies and techniques may be used to help the child adjust to their environment and navigate challenges during school, peer interactions, and situations at home.

Diagnosis may also bring to light comorbid disorders such as ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, intellectual impairment, and other possible co-occurring conditions. This information is invaluable when formulating a support plan with family, educators, and employers for accommodating and managing ASD-related struggles.

It Takes a Village: Therapeutic Support After Diagnosis

Connecting with other caregivers, either online or in person, can be immensely helpful in maintaining your spirits when the going gets rough. Finding a therapist for yourself and your family is a wonderful idea, too. 

ASD management presents a host of challenges and difficult decision-making; having a trusted sounding board can make all the difference in your emotional wellbeing as you navigate this new territory.

Autism support services are more available now than ever as we better understand ASD and the unique needs of people with autism. Therapeutic Pathways offers a variety of services for individuals with autism and their support networks. Family Training is available in group or individual settings as well to allow caregivers and parents the opportunity to learn more about their child with autism, how they function, and how to best include them within the structure of the family. 

We offer autism programs in California for children, teens, and adults. Our ABA therapy approach focuses on individualized treatment with a goal of maximizing progress in specific behavior center areas. 

The compassionate and experienced staff at Therapeutic Pathways can assist you and your family every step of the way in your child’s journey towards a more independent lifestyle. Don’t hesitate to learn more about our evidence-based autism treatment or reach out to us by telephone at (209) 422-3280 if you’re seeking assistance after an ASD diagnosis. We are here for you and ready to help your child thrive!