There are no medical tests for diagnosing autism. An accurate diagnosis must be based on observation of the individual’s communication, behavior, and developmental levels. However, because many of the behaviors associated with autism are shared by other disorders, various medical tests may be ordered to rule out or identify other possible causes of the symptoms being exhibited
A brief observation in a single setting cannot present a true picture of an individual’s abilities and behaviors. Parental (and other caregivers’) input and developmental history are very important components of making an accurate diagnosis. At first glance, some persons with autism may appear to have mental retardation, a behavior disorder, problems with hearing, or even odd and eccentric behavior. To complicate matters further, these conditions can co-occur with autism. However, it is important to distinguish autism from other conditions, since an accurate diagnosis and early identification can provide the basis for building an appropriate and effective educational and treatment program.
Research indicates that early diagnosis is associated with dramatically better outcomes for individuals with autism. The earlier a child is diagnosed, the earlier the child can begin benefiting from one of the many specialized intervention approaches.
Because all children develop at their own pace, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention developed a program to use as a guide to know whether to be concerned about your child’s development. If you have any concerns you should speak to your child’s doctor.
There are two ways a child can receive an ASD diagnosis.
Are both diagnoses required?
No, though depending on the type of therapies and programs your child requires and is enrolled in, he/she may receive both. A diagnosis in one area will not necessarily transfer over to the other area
Is an autism diagnosis required?
No, however obtaining services may require an evaluation to be performed. It is not uncommon for a child with autism to be given other labels, either prior to receiving the autism diagnosis or in conjunction with the autism diagnosis. Developmentally delayed, speech language impairment, behavior disorder, oppositional defiancy disorder, and mentally handicapped as well as many other labels may be given to a child with autism.
Why so many labels?
A child may have co-existing conditions in addition to autism. The person giving the diagnosis may not have enough experience in identifying autism or in diagnosing autism in very young children. The symptoms may not be as obvious at a young age. Onset can occur between birth and three years of age (with the exception of Asperger’s). There may also be a hesitation in labeling a very young child with a diagnosis of autism.
Why is this important?
It is important to understand how autism is diagnosed because not all professionals, either in the medical or educational fields, have had the training or experience in diagnosing a child with autism. Parents need to understand what autism is, how it’s diagnosed, and understand the special education laws to be an effective advocate for their child.