An accurate diagnosis is based on observation of several things – including the individual’s communication, social interaction, and his or her activities and interests. At present, there is not a clear single diagnostic tool for autism spectrum disorders.
Because many of the behaviors associated with autism are common to other disorders, some medical tests can be performed in order to identify other causes or diagnoses. People with autism often have symptoms of various co-occurring mental, behavioral and physical conditions.
Medical professionals who may have experience with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders include developmental pediatricians, neurologists (specifically pediatric neurologists), and child and adolescent psychiatrists.
Not every one of these professionals has experience with autism, so parents and caregivers should seek recommendations of knowledgeable professionals in their area from:
- Our local resource guide
- autism support groups
- people who have children or other family members with autism
- a primary-care provider
A skilled practitioner can begin the assessment; the evaluation itself can vary depending on the professional administering it, the age of the person being assessed, the severity of his or her symptoms, and local available resources.
For example, if a very young child (1-3 years old) is showing significant developmental delays, a primary-care practitioner may refer the family to a psychologist, pediatric neurologist or developmental pediatrician for a diagnostic assessment. Wisconsin’s Birth to Three Program may also be of help.
An initial medical assessment typically includes:
- a medical history of the mother’s pregnancy
- developmental milestones
- eating and sleeping habits
- stomach and bowel functioning
- sensory challenges
- medical illnesses, including ear infections and seizures
- any family history of developmental disorders
- any family history of genetic and metabolic disorders
- parents’ and the child’s exposure to environmental toxins
- a thorough physical exam
- routine lab tests
While there is no one behavioral or communications test that can detect autism, several screening instruments are now being used in diagnosing it.
Remember – a medical diagnosis does not assure supports or services in an educational setting. An Educational Diagnosis is very different than a medical diagnosis, however notification tot he school of a recent medical diagnosis can support a parent;s request for an Educational evaluation.