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How Is Autism Diagnosed?

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed in the January 2-3, 2005 issue
Reprinted on page 14, in the January 17-18, 2009 issue
Reprinted under the title: Diagnosis Begins with Suspicion
on page 23, in the August 25, 2010 issue of The Mississauga News
under the feature: Health &Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

Autism is a disorder of behavior. Like many other similar disorders, it takes careful and repeated observation to diagnose autism. There is no simple blood test or x-ray that will reveal it. Autism is a neurobehavioral disorder that seems to affect males more often than females.

In the early part of childhood, small differences begin to arise. It may be an obvious inability to communicate despite having speech, vision and hearing capabilities. Repetitive movements such as head rocking may be present which occur over and over again. There appears to be a failure to develop optimal language and social skills.

It is possible to look for earlier signs of autism in infancy, such as the lack of babbling and failure to produce words and word groups. Most practitioners will refrain from making a premature diagnosis since it serves little to aid treatment.

The pre-school age tends to reveal more atypical features that help diagnosis. These may include abnormal eye movements and failure to make eye contact when communicating, or failing to respond to their name when addressed directly.

Autistic children seem to have no interest in playing with other children and may ignore major commotions in their vicinity. These children also tend not to use body postures or hand gestures to communicate such as head nodding or pointing when they desire something.

Autism may exist in varying degrees from mild to severe. About 1 in 1000 or more children is affected. There is no cure since no one has convincingly proven that any type of structural abnormality exists.

These kids do not have impaired intelligence. By making a diagnosis before they enter the school system, most can reach some level of acceptable functioning. Drugs play only a minor role in some cases. More importantly, autistic youngsters may require assistance from a whole team of differing professionals such as psychiatrists, audiologists, speech-pathologists and psychologists.

Diagnosis merely starts with a suspicion.


Related resources:

Autism from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Screening and Diagnosis of Autism. American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Guideline Summary for Clinicians.
Autism Spectrum Disorder. Also called: ASD, Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) from MedlinePlus.
Autism - diagnosis and consultation from Body and Health, Canada.com.
A Parent's Handbook: Your Guide to Autism Programs (in British Columbia, Canada) in PDF, 36 pages. Contents include: What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? Early Indicators of Autism Spectrum Disorder. What to Do if You Think Your Child May Have Autism. What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder? Is There a Cure? My Child Has a Diagnosis of ASD. What Do I Do? Autism Funding: Under Age 6, Ages 6 - 18.
Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Fact Sheet from Wrights Law.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Autism Fact Sheet - Guide for Parents of Autistic Children from Child Development Institute.
Autisms commonalities with ADHD / ASD - Autism Spectrum Disorders from Retrain the Brain. "For reasons yet unidentified, autism has become an epidemic in America over the last couple of decades. The number of children diagnosed with autism has risen from one in 2,000 to one in 150 today."
Suggested Classroom Interventions for Children with ADD and Learning Disabilities from Child Development Institute.
What is sensory overload, and who gets it? What does sensory overload actually feel like? What are the signs of sensory overload in children? Tips for helping your loved one cope with sensory overload while shopping.
At a Glance: Classroom Accommodations for ADHD by Amanda Morin, Understood for Learning and Attention Issues.
Estate Planning for Parents of Children with Autism from Just Great Lawyers.

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