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May 04

Diagnosis of Autism

By Paula M. Santos, Psy.D., BCBA-D, Corporate Clinical Director of Wellspring Special Education Articles Add comments
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Not only is it important to understand the specific behaviors and/or symptoms associated with autism, or Autistic Disorder, it is equally as important for parents and professionals to understand how autism is diagnosed, when it can be diagnosed, and some of the finer points of the diagnosis. Below are 6 commonly misunderstood or unknown factors related to receiving or securing a diagnosis of autism:

Autism can only be formally diagnosed by medical doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. These are individuals with training regarding the diagnostic criteria of autism and other disorders.

There is currently no medical testing available for autism which includes the absence of genetic, neurological, and blood-testing to identify individuals as having autism.

While there are no medical tests to diagnose autism, there are standardized screening tests that involve interview and/or observation of the individual and/or those familiar with the individual. Standardized screening tests generally focus on determining the likelihood that an individual has autism given the behaviors they do or do not engage in that are related to the diagnostic criteria of autism.

Autism is generally diagnosed through observation and interview during which assessors look to ensure an individual meets specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Interview concerns the individual’s history, particularly prior to the age of 3 as a diagnosis of autism requires that prior to 3 years old a delay in at least one area: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play.

A formal diagnosis of autism cannot be given until the individual is 18 months of age in accordance with the DSM. While research has identified some possible indicators of autism prior to 18 months (i.e., placenta symmetry, accelerated head growth and the limbic system, relative  length of digits, brainstem abnormalities and neocortical malformations), diagnoses made prior to the age of 18 months are generally less predictive of a stable or reliable diagnosis of autism after the age of 3 and overall across time.

Just as one can receive a diagnosis they can “lose” a diagnosis or be re-diagnosed as no longer having autism or having another disorder. Not only do professionals sometimes misdiagnose individuals as having autism (or any other disorder), individuals can gain skills that may cause them to no longer meet full criteria for autism but instead to qualify for another related developmental disorder such as Asperger’s or Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. A diagnosis of any sort is simply a set of criteria with specific time lines, etc. As an individual gains new skills some of their defining characteristics of autism may no longer be present.

Wellspring is one of the fastest growing companies in United States in the field of Autism Treatment, providing behavior therapy services using the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Wellspring employs ethical and experienced professionals throughout the U.S. who are passionate about meeting the behavioral needs of their clients and improving their quality of life. Wellspring is committed to being at the forefront of the behavioral health services industry and a leader of autism treatment. The company is on the cutting edge of the latest research, updated educational plans, business trends and technology to ensure the success of its employees and its clients. www.Wellspring.com

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