Imagine this: You begin to notice symptoms of pain and sensitivity in one of your teeth. You might give it some time until you notice that these symptoms don’t go away. Eventually, you notice that more teeth are affected along with some bleeding upon brushing your teeth. You have a reasonable suspicion that there might be an issue, and you don’t want it to continue to get worse. You’re not sure if it is just a case of simple toothaches or cavities or maybe neither, but more than likely, you will very soon visit the dentist and report your symptoms for the proper diagnosis and treatment.
The same urgency to seek a professional should be the case if you notice signs of developmental issues in your child. Children with developmental disabilities naturally rely on others to report the signs because they cannot report their own symptoms of the problems that they are experiencing. Of course, you are not a doctor or an expert of child development, but just like in the case of the toothache, you are an observer, a reporter, and a bit of a detective which requires some self-education. Because the visit to a medical professional usually lasts for a short period of time, it tends to allow only for a snapshot view of your child. As such, there is great importance on parental involvement in the evaluation process to receive a proper “differential diagnosis” which is essentially a process of elimination, thereby narrowing down the field of possibilities for what the specific condition may be.
Any evaluation is an ongoing process to gather and analyze information. Although your child’s pediatrician is often the “gateway” doctor who opens up the door to begin the evaluation process, more than one professional’s opinion may be warranted. As of today, the diagnosis of autism relies on observation, or “opinion”, so it is crucial that you are involved to help the professionals to make the proper diagnosis. Therefore, it is wise to keep an organized journal of all questions, concerns, and observations gathered by you and everyone who plays a meaningful role in the child’s life, such as caregivers, friends, family, teaching staff, and community members. Additionally, of great benefit would be videos of your child’s typical interactions to provide real-life examples (so keep your smartphone’s video app handy).
You will know when you have arrived at a proper and differential diagnosis of your child when the professional(s) have provided you sufficiently with specific answers to your specific questions. The differential diagnosis might not be autism but rather another developmental or learning disability. In other cases, it may be an issue requiring something like a change in diet, behavior management, or counseling. If your questions or concerns have not been addressed to your satisfaction, further documentation of any features should continue to be sought through other professional consultation which may be within a different field of study, such as a developmental psychologist, speech-language specialist, occupational therapist, and/or neurologist.
Still, if your self-education and ‘gut’ indicates that the issue goes beyond an attention and/or a language disability, then you need to proactively push for the evaluation process to continue. Otherwise, subsequent treatment services and education programs may be improper or insufficient. Consider the outcome of the toothache scenario presented earlier if an underlying gum problem were to have been treated with a simple cavity filling because a different specialist, like a periodontist, wasn’t consulted.
The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can take time because it is a very complex disorder to diagnose appropriately. It has been well documented that the earlier identification of autism is critical to steer the course of development and shape the child’s life. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner the child can receive appropriate services. Then, at last, all of the meaningful people in the child’s life can better understand and help meet his or her needs.
Refer to the links below for signs and characteristics if an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is suspected.