Diagnosis of Autism
How is Autism diagnosed?
Autism is one of those common conditions which remain unidentified or undiagnosed until very late into the developmental or formative years of a child. The reasons behind this are limited awareness of parents as well as denial or hesitancy in accepting their child's problems. This in turn, delays early intervention.
As parents you would probably be the first ones to notice your child displaying some delay in development or unusual behaviors like failing to make eye contact, absence of a social smile or lack of response to his or her name. Those with the experience of parenting siblings of their younger ones, may very well be able to identify the latter's developmental delays or socio-behavioral problems. First-time parents may realize it much later or following observations made by relatives. After these initial signs the parents very often consult the family doctor.
Since the most observable problem in these children is absence of response to name calling, lack of speech or regression of speech, one of the first tests recommended by the family doctors or pediatricians are tests to rule out hearing problems, such as Brainstem Evoked Response Audiometry (BERA), etc. These tests, as expected, may not indicate any ear defect.
Doctors may prescribe an MRI or CT scan of the brain to examine the brain structure. Several other investigative tests could be suggested to rule out brain tumors or other defects.
Diagnosing autism in children becomes difficult as they do not display any obvious physical problems. In absence of the above mentioned problems, your family doctor would refer your child to a developmental pediatrician. A developmental pediatrician or a pediatric neurologist is better equipped to diagnose autism. They are able to assess the delays in the child's development across various milestones. This helps narrow down to the diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The assessment of children with autism requires multiple evaluators, using multiple methods of gathering information. A formal diagnosis is best done by a team of professionals comprising of a developmental pediatrician, a psychologist, an occupational therapist, a speech and language pathologist and a few others. This team carries out several assessments and tests, which pinpoint the exact areas in which the child has a problem. For example, social quotient/social interaction, comprehension / understanding, hyperactivity, etc.