Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) affect the way a person experiences and communicates with the world. People with ASD may struggle to express themselves, interact socially, and process sensory information in typical ways. Knowing the signs of Autism and getting an accurate diagnosis can help people reach their full potential.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Autism?
The signs, symptoms and severity of autism can vary widely. People with autism may struggle with communication, social interactions, and behavior. They could have difficulty with understanding body language, facial expressions and nuances of conversation; may display repetitive behaviors such as rocking or obsessively organizing items; have difficulty empathizing with others; and be quite literal in their interpretation of language.
How is Autism Diagnosed?
Autism is diagnosed using a combination of medical history, observations, and testing. A team of healthcare professionals may be consulted to bring together different pieces of information about the patient’s behavior and development. Tests used include scales to measure autism severity (Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale) as well as genetic tests, IQ tests and other physical diagnostics. In addition to these assessments, parents are often asked to provide feedback on their child’s development at home and in school.
Which Tests Are Used to Diagnose Autism?
A range of tests can be used to diagnose autism, including the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS), Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS). They are designed to measure a child’s abilities in communication and social development, such as joint attention, object use, interactions with other people, play and motor skills. Behavioral assessments may also be conducted to further explore an individual’s behavior. Genetic tests may also be used to look for changes in DNA that are associated with autism, although such tests cannot definitively diagnose autism.
What Role does Screening Play in the Diagnosis of Autism?
Early and regular screening is essential in the diagnosis of autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all children be screened for autism at various stages, including at 18 and 24 months of age. Screening tools such as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT) are designed to help identify signs of an autism spectrum disorder in young children. A follow-up assessment by a qualified professional can provide an accurate diagnosis.
What Other Help is Available for People on the Autism Spectrum?
There are also a range of therapeutic interventions available to help those on the autism spectrum. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is one of the main approaches that can aid in symptom reduction and improved social skills. A combination of speech, occupational and physical therapies may also be beneficial. Mental health professionals specializing in autism can provide therapeutic guidance and support to individuals, couples and families living with ASD.