Autism: the road from suspicion to diagnosis

As parents, you should observe your child and note if once-normal learned behavior has begun to regress. If so, you should bring it to the attention of your child's doctor as soon as possible. There are also 3 main areas that you should pay attention to if you suspect that your child may have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD):

  • social problems, such as not responding to you, not making eye contact with you, and always wanting to be alone
  • behavioural problems, such as repetitively rocking their body or flapping their arms, crying or laughing for no reason, or tantrums
  • language problems, such as not being able to make sentences, having a flat or singsong tone, or slowly stopping talking altogether

In addition, the Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network (CAIRN) has put together some guidelines for what should be involved in the physical assessment process. As part of the guidelines for making a diagnosis, your child's doctor may ask you questions such as:

  • Has your child's head gotten larger or smaller?
  • Are you starting to notice that your child has more erratic sleeping patterns, trouble going to the bathroom, or a hard time controlling their bladder?
  • Is your child starting to show signs of hearing or vision problems?

You can use some of these guidelines beforehand to help you observe your child more closely and know what to tell your child's doctor.

Because autism is a complex condition that exhibits a wide variety of symptoms and degrees of severity, making a diagnosis can be difficult. If your doctor agrees with your concern about autism, he or she will refer you and your child to specialists, who will start arranging a series of autism screening and comprehensive tests to make a diagnosis. These tests will depend on your child's age, and children as early as 18 months can show early signs of autism and get tested.

If your child is not diagnosed with autism, your doctor may also want to rule out other mental health or genetic disorders that have symptoms similar to those of ASD. These include Landua-Keffler syndrome (LKS), phenylketonuria (PKU), tuberous sclerosis, and fragile X syndrome.

If your child is diagnosed with autism, try to stay calm, plan out next steps, and acknowledge that this is a positive step towards helping your child. Instead of channelling your energy into fear and anxiety, try to channel your energy positively to get your child on the road to treatment.

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