I think my child may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. What do I do?
1) If you suspect that your child is not meeting his developmental milestones as he should or is engaging in behaviors that concern you, consult with your pediatrician.
2) Ask for a referral for an evaluation. You have options. Your child’s school district can conduct an evaluation and so can a psychologist. The difference is, the school district’s evaluation is free where the psychologist is not. The school district is bound by state law in terms of what types of assessment tools they can use whereas the psychologist has more clinical freedom. Either way, you should be able to get what you need so long as the evaluator is trained in child development and autism evaluations. Not all psychologists are trained in this area so be sure to ask as you try to find the right clinician. This takes specialized training that not all psychologists receive. If you are uncertain, ask the clinician what types of assessment tools they typically use. You should hear things such as: a thorough developmental, medical, and family history and testing that addresses your child’s cognitive, executive, language, social, emotional, and behavioral functioning. Ask if the clinician is familiar with the ADOS. If she is, then you know she is offering what is considered to be the Gold Standard assessment for your child. I realize it sounds like a lot of testing, and it is. Receiving a proper diagnosis is intensive and time-consuming. If you find a clinician who says that he does not need to do all of this, run for the hills. He may be offering a screening assessment but not a thorough, comprehensive evaluation. A comprehensive evaluation is what is needed in order to make an accurate diagnosis.
3) Have your child’s hearing checked. If a child is not hearing properly, it can negatively impact her language development and behavior. Imagine, if you will, listening through water. Everything would be quite muffled and difficult to clearly hear. One of the mechanisms of learning language is through our environment. If a child cannot properly hear, then it can result in a language and social delay. It can also result in frustration, leading to tantrums. Some children may even display behaviors such as rocking. This is why having your child’s hearing checked is crucial to successfully reaching a diagnosis. Otherwise, you may risk a misdiagnosis and delay proper treatment.
The important thing to remember is to trust your gut. As your child’s parent, no one knows him better than you. Early intervention is key to any developmental delay so do not take the “wait and see” approach. Once the evaluation is complete, you can have peace of mind knowing that it is not Autism or be put on the path to treatment and progress.
If you have a toddler and are suspicious of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, go to this free online screening tool: M-CHAT. This does not give a diagnosis but will let you know if you need to follow-up with your pediatrician. Share the results with your pediatrician and the clinician conducting the evaluation.