What is the Diagnostic Criteria for Autism in Children?

The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be complex because of its nature. There’s no blood test or imaging technique that can confirm an autism diagnosis, so healthcare professionals must look at an individual’s history and observe their behaviors over a period of time.

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ASD can be diagnosed by healthcare professionals in hospitals, Action Behavior centers, and clinics. Each child can present with a unique set of symptoms but there are common signs of autism that appear in most children who are on the spectrum.

The Onset of Symptoms in Autistic Children

Symptoms can appear in children as young as 18 months old. However, it isn’t until they reach the age of 2 that doctors can make an official and reliable diagnosis because of the developmental delays that are often present at this age.

Standardized screening between the ages of 18 and 24 months old is recommended, with continued surveillance beyond this point. Some children don’t get diagnosed until much later than the age of 2. Sometimes, it isn’t until they’ve reached their teenage years or even adulthood that they get an official diagnosis.

The Diagnostic Process for Autism

The diagnosis of autism is a long process and follows a number of important steps.

Developmental Monitoring

The first step in diagnosing autism involves observing a child as they grow. Although every child develops at slightly different rates, there are certain developmental milestones that a child is expected to pass when they reach a particular age.

If a parent expects that their child’s development is delayed, they can get a professional opinion. Doctors and psychologists will watch how the child interacts with their parents or guardians, friends, and other healthcare professionals.

The idea behind these ongoing observations is to identify whether a child meets the expected milestones by a certain age in each area of their development. Healthcare professionals will observe a child’s skills in speech and language, play, learning, and physical movement to determine if there are any abnormalities.

Developmental Screening

The next stage is more personalized and intense. It’s a formal approach that requires regular screenings.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), every child should have developmental and behavioral screenings at the age of 9 months, one and a half years, and two and a half years. If autism is suspected, a child may also have a screening at the age of 2.

During screenings, the healthcare professional will ask parents a series of questions that revolve around their child’s language development, physical movement, and cognitive abilities.

Developmental Diagnosis

If the developmental screenings indicate that a child’s development is delayed, specialist doctors and psychologists will step in. They will use a series of highly specific tests and questionnaires to make an accurate diagnosis.

These tests can distinguish between the different types of autism and behavioral disorders, such as Asperger syndrome or pervasive development disorder. Doctors can then provide personalized care to encourage healthy development, positive social interactions, and body positivity.


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