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Establishing autism diagnosis in young children

Lana Bandoim's picture
autism diagnosis in young children

Medical experts agree that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficult to diagnose, and the process requires thorough evaluations by trained professionals. Diagnosing the condition at an early age benefits both the child and parents, so it is important for parents to learn ASD symptoms and pay attention to the development of their children. Although there is no easy blood test for the disorder, there are reliable ways to identify autism at an early age.


Parents and close family members tend to be the first people to notice behavioral differences and developmental delays in children. However, teachers, babysitters, doctors and others can also notice the symptoms that indicate autism and suggest testing. The first step is to pay attention to the behavior and development of the child, so this information can be shared with a professional. Parents are hesitant to consider that their child may have autism, yet it is important not to wait too long for testing because delays in diagnosis should be avoided. If the child is diagnosed at an early age, many symptoms could be mitigated with behavioral therapies.

There are several tests available to help diagnose autism. The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers Revised (M-CHAT-R), Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers & Young Children (STAT) and the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) are several examples of the tools available to professionals. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Tali Shenfield, testing for autism can reveal other psychological conditions, so parents should not hesitate to do the evaluations.

Researchers have not reached the point that allows a doctor to use a blood test or another type of physical examination to detect autism in a young child. This is why it is important to take advantage of the existing psychological tests and find a qualified professional to conduct the assessment. The tests are not invasive and do not require a great amount of time to be spent in a medical office. They generally consist of multiple questions that are used by a psychologist, psychiatrist or other qualified medical professional to evaluate the likelihood of an autism disorder in the child.

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The M-CHAT-R tends to be the first autism test most parents encounter since it is used as a screening tool for toddlers who are 16 to 30 months. If this test reveals that a child is at risk of autism, more evaluations may be required. There is also a follow-up questionnaire that has been created to help determine if the first screening test was accurate for children who tested in the moderate risk level.

After the prescreening is done, the DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria by the American Psychiatric Association is used to finalize the diagnosis. Psychiatrists and psychologists use this tool, and it provides a way to categorize the symptoms of autism by three levels. Some of the DSM-5 criteria include a child’s difficulties with social interaction, problems with eye contact, delays in speech development, fixations on certain subjects, issues with hand gestures and many others.

Families should not be afraid to pursue an autism diagnosis because it is a crucial step to getting the right treatment for their children. Studies have shown that finding the disorder at an early age can have a great impact on a child’s future and development. A treatment plan can be established that can help with delays or impairments, and behavioral therapy can be started faster. All of these aspects influence a child’s progress while affecting his or her opportunities.

It is important to note that the tests cannot provide 100 percent accuracy in all cases. A misdiagnosis occasionally occurs despite the best efforts of medical staff and parents. This is why experts recommend getting second opinions and using more than one test to evaluate the child.

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