When it comes to autism, in all likelihood it is the parents and primary caregivers who’re the first to notice that there is something odd about their child’s behavior. Peculiarities in the child will be reflected in his social, communicational, or behavioral patterns. In a majority of autism cases, parents seek professional autism diagnosis only after the child has started school. This is because it is at this stage that they realize something is amiss, as their child is unable to complete the age-appropriate tasks that are set to him in school.
There are certain steps that parents need to follow under the guidance of their family physician, before autism diagnosis is confirmed in their child.
Autism Diagnosis Using M-CHAT
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that each child between the ages of 18 months and 2 years be screened for autism at the well-baby check up. This is done using the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT), a scientific tool used to assess the risk of autism in toddlers. It was developed by a group of neuro-psychologists, whose objective was to identify autism cases as early as possible.
The M-CHAT checks for autistic tendencies using criteria such as eye contact, stereotypical behaviors, a lack of social awareness, etc. After this test is complete, the child is evaluated further in a follow-up interview. Depending upon the interviewer’s assessment, the child’s score on the checklist, and the parents’ concerns, the child will then be referred to either a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician.
Autism Diagnosis Using DSM 4-TR Criteria
Specialist doctors such as psychiatrists refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 4-TR, to arrive at a proper diagnosis in cases of autism. This manual is mainly a list of standardized criteria that help confirm the autism diagnosis. For a child to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder:
- He must demonstrate six characteristics from the following list, with at least two from sections A and C, and one from section B.
Impairment In Social Interaction
- Is unable to sustain eye to eye contact
- Is unable to show emotional or social reciprocity
- Is unable to develop relationships with peers
- Shows a lack of interest in others
Impairment In Communication
- Shows a delay in linguistic development or a complete lack of it
- Does not use nonverbal gestures such as pointing
- Is unable to start or sustain a conversation, despite showing some capacity for speech
- Demonstrates a repetitive, stereotyped, or idiosyncratic use of language
- Is unable to engage in make-believe or imaginative play
Impairment In Behavior
- Demonstrates repetitive or stereotypical motor movements such as hand flapping, rocking, or finger flapping
- Shows intense focus or preoccupation with certain objects
- Is unable to handle changes in routine
- He must show a delay in development in any of the following three areas before he has turned three years old:
While parents usually recognize that their child is not following the course of normal development, many of them delay seeking professional help. This may be due to a fear of the results of the diagnosis and due to the social stigma associated with conditions like autism. But it is important to remember that only timely autism diagnosis and treatment can help the child. With the right therapies and the child’s response to them, there is every chance that he will develop to his full potential.