If your child had a physical illness, you would tell your child about the illness so that he or she could understand his or her body and learn to make the best choices under this medical circumstance. Having a diagnosis allows the family to move forward with appropriate treatments and make the best informed decisions for the child and the family.
There are no medical tests for diagnosing autism. In order to be diagnosed accurately, a person must be observed by professionals skilled in determining communication, behavioral and developmental levels. However, because many of the behaviors associated with autism are shared by other disorders, a doctor may complete various medical tests to rule out other possible causes.
Ideally, a person should be evaluated by a multi-disciplinary team which may include a neurologist, psychologist, internist, speech/language therapist, learning consultant or other professional knowledgeable about autism. A brief observation in a single setting cannot present a true picture of an individual's abilities and behavior patterns. At first glance, the person with autism may appear to have an intellectual disability, a learning disability, or problems with hearing. However, it is important to distinguish autism from other conditions, since an accurate diagnosis can provide the basis of building an appropriate and effective treatment program.
Adapted from BCC-ASA - http://www.bcc-asa.org
What signs should I look for?
RED FLAGS – Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Video Glossary from Autism Speaks
An innovative web-based tool designed to help parents and professionals learn more about the early red flags and diagnostic features of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Developmental Milestones Screening
Children develop skills, or "milestones," at their own pace. How is your child doing? You only need 10-20 minutes to check with the Ages & Stages Questionnaires®, Third Edition. Your ASQ-3™ results will help you see if your child's developmental progress is on time and alert you to concerns that you can talk over with your health care provider.
Early Signs of Autism Video Tutorial
To improve recognition of the early signs of ASD among pediatricians, parents, and early intervention providers, autism researcher Dr. Rebecca Landa of Kennedy Krieger Institute has developed this free 9-minute video tutorial on ASD behavioral signs in one-year-olds. The tutorial consists of six video clips comparing toddlers who show no signs of ASD to toddlers who show early signs of ASD. Each video is presented with voice-over explaining how the specific behaviors exhibited by the child, as they occur on screen, are either indicative of ASD or typical child development.
What are co-occurring conditions?
Co-occurring conditions (also known as co-morbid conditions) are those diagnoses that may be given in addition to an autism spectrum disorder. Comorbidity describes the effect that other diagnoses may have on a person other than the primary diagnosis. For instance, a person may have ASD and ADHD and/or bipolar disorder and/or anxiety, etc. Sometimes secondary diagnoses may be overlooked as they share the same or similar symptoms as the primary diagnosis. For example, a child may have poor impulse control. This may be a symptom of the person's autism, or the person may have poor impulse control because he also has a co-occurring condition of ADHD. Often, co-occurring conditions need to be treated first, in order to facilitate the treatment and management of ASD.
Assessments and services for your child and family are FREE of charge through Infants and Toddlers, and Child Find. You do not need health insurance and you do not need a referral from your doctor.
Infants and Toddlers – Age birth – 3
Each county has an Infants and Toddlers program that will assess your child, provide ongoing services for your child and family (if eligible), and ensure that procedural safeguards are met to protect the rights of your child and family. Your child and family may be eligible for early intervention services if your child is under three years of age and: has a delay of 25 percent or more in development; or is developing in a way that is considered "atypical" for most children his or her age; or has a diagnosed condition such as a genetic disorder or severe vision impairment that is likely to affect development.
See our Providers and Services database to find diagnostic providers.
Child Find – Age 3-21
Parents with children ages 3 through 21-years old who suspect their child may have a disability can begin the process to determine fi their child may require special education by writing a letter (and keeping a copy) to the school principal or by contacting the local school system Child Find office.
See our Providers and Services database to find contact information for your county's school system.
You can also request an assessment from a private provider. These services are not free of charge and may or may not be covered under your health insurance plan.
See our Providers and Services database to find diagnostic health care providers.
How do I explain the diagnosis to my child?
Parent Tips: "You Have Autism."
I am an adult and wonder if I may have ASD. Should I get a diagnosis?
Diagnosis: The Process for Adults
Getting a diagnosis of autism, or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), can be a really positive thing. A lot of people say their diagnosis has helped them to understand why they have difficulties with some things and why they are especially good at some things.
Diagnosis for Adults
Getting a diagnosis of autism in adulthood can be a mixed blessing and some people decide that they are happy with self-diagnosis.
While the exact cause of ASD is unknown, the CDC states that autism is caused by "environmental, biological, and genetic factors."
Treatment for ASD
There is currently no known cure for ASD. Intervention strategies may include physical, occupational, speech, and/or behavioral therapy, medications, and biomedical and dietary treatments.