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Autism Spectrum Disorders

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorders

The autism spectrum disorders can often be reliably detected by the age of 3 years, and in some cases as early as 18 months. Studies suggest that many children eventually may be accurately identified by the age of 1 year or even younger. The appearance of any of the warning signs of autism spectrum disorder is reason to have a child evaluated by a professional specializing in these disorders.
Pediatricians, family physicians, daycare providers, teachers, and parents may initially dismiss signs of autism spectrum disorders, optimistically thinking the child is just a little slow and will "catch up." Although early intervention has a dramatic impact on reducing symptoms and increasing a child's ability to grow and learn new skills, it is estimated that only 50 percent of children are diagnosed before kindergarten.
(Click Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorders for more information.)

What Are the Symptoms?

Parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child. In some cases, the baby seemed "different" from birth, unresponsive to people, or focusing intently on one item for long periods of time. The first signs of an autism spectrum disorder can also appear in children who seem to have been developing normally. When an engaging, babbling toddler suddenly becomes silent, withdrawn, self-abusive, or indifferent to social overtures, something is wrong. Research has shown that parents are usually correct about noticing developmental problems, although they may not realize the specific nature or degree of the problem.
All children with autism spectrum disorders:
  • Demonstrate deficits in social interaction
  • Have difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Display repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests.
In addition, they will often have unusual responses to sensory experiences, such as certain sounds or the way objects look.
Each of these symptoms runs the gamut from mild to severe. They will present in each individual child differently. For instance, a child may have little trouble learning to read but exhibit extremely poor social interaction. Each child will display communication, social, and behavioral patterns that are individual but fit into the overall diagnosis of ASD.
(To learn more about the specific symptoms, click Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms.)
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