Diagnosing an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

While there is no single test to detect an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there are screening processes and diagnostic methods that can be implemented to diagnose the condition. Generally, when certain milestones are not met in a child's development, especially when there is a family history of ASD, the evaluation begins. This is usually a multi-level process involving numerous specialists and other medical professionals.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that screenings be initiated at the 9-, 18- and 24- or 30-month visit. Even with screening measures in place, the symptoms of ASD vary and may go undetected in mildly affected children or children with another diagnosed disability.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists the following as early indicators of an autism spectrum disorder:

  • No babbling or pointing by age 1
  • No single words by 16 months or 2-word phrases by age 2
  • No response to name
  • Loss of language or social skills
  • Poor eye contact
  • Excessive lining up of toys or objects
  • No smiling or social responsiveness

Later indicators of ASD can include:

  • Inability to form peer relationships
  • Inability to initiate or sustain a conversation
  • Lack of imaginary play
  • Repetitive language or vocal sounds
  • Obsession with certain subjects or objects
  • Inflexible routines or rituals

Comprehensive Interdisciplinary Diagnostic Evaluation

Due to the complexity of any type of ASD, a comprehensive and interdisciplinary evaluation can offer the most accurate assessment of a child suspected to have the disability. The collaboration of a medical professionals involved can provide a more detailed and constructive evaluation of the child. Additionally, other specialists are usually consulted to rule out other reasons for developmental delay.

The evaluators are typically specialists in their fields of practice, as well as experts in autism spectrum disorders. These can include:

  • Developmental pediatricians
  • Pediatric neurologists
  • Speech pathologists
  • Pediatric phycologists and psychiatrists
  • Occupational and physical therapists

The evaluations and assessments can include:

  • Complete medical and developmental history
  • Cognitive testing
  • Observations and direct interaction with the child
  • Parent interviews
  • Functionality assessments in the areas of social, communication, sensory, emotional, cognitive, and adaptive behavior.
  • Assessment of seizures and / or motor difficulties, if present
  • MRI, EEG, chromosomal analysis, and other medical tests
  • Screening for other medical issues often associated with ASD

Family Diagnosis of ASD

Most experts believe there is a genetic component involved in the development of ASD. A child born into a family that already has an autistic child is at a greater risk of being diagnosed with the disability. Many parents of autistic children who are looking to add to their families are weighing the risks of having another child with ASD and wondering if there are ways to reduce such risks.

Recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a link between maternal autoimmune disorders, fetal predisposition for autism, and the birth of a child with ASD. At Braverman Reproductive Immunology, we are in a unique position to look into this possibility. Many of our patients have suffered previous miscarriages due to exaggerated immune responses during pregnancy. The question we are now asking is, "Can alleviating or preventing a mother's autoimmune response during pregnancy lessen the risk of having a child with autism?"

If you have a child diagnosed with ASD, have a history of miscarriages, and are contemplating another pregnancy or are currently pregnant, we would love for you to join our discussion forum. It is being moderated by our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Braverman, a nationally known authority in the field of reproductive immunology. It is our hope that by sharing experiences and medical advice we may be able to learn more about this possible new area of study in ASD diagnosis.

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