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How and When to Get an Autism Diagnosis

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Whether your child is six months or 19, receiving an official autism diagnosis can be life-changing.

For many children and young adults, the diagnosis validates what they’ve been experiencing throughout their life to date. It gives them a greater understanding of themselves and how they interpret the world around them.

An autism diagnosis can help give them a sense of identity and a framework that will help guide them for the rest of their lives.

For parents of autistic children and young adults, an official diagnosis means securing special accommodations at school and therapy for their child.   

At Heartlinks, many families say they feel like a door has been opened once an official diagnosis has been received.

Still, many parents remain confused and unsure about how to get an autism diagnosis.

We can help. 

How is Autism Diagnosed?

For your child to receive an official autism diagnosis, they must demonstrate difficulties in the two following areas:

Repetitive and restrictive patterns of behavior

Child getting Autism diagnosis

Some of the most indicative autism symptoms are kids who rock their bodies repeatedly, become upset with routine changes, and repeat phrases or words. 

Autism in infants and toddlers is often exhibited in intense interest in limited activities (i.e., only playing with a particular red ball). 

Difficulty with communication

There might be a delay in your child’s ability to speak or use words appropriately. 

Or they may have difficulty making eye contact and are unable to read the social cues of others.

These are examples of your child or teen struggling with verbal and non-verbal communication.

What is Early Intervention in Autism?

Early intervention explains the procedure of identifying and treating the developmental difficulties of an autistic child as early as possible in their life.

In the world of autism diagnosis, the golden word is early. The earlier the diagnosis, the more the child can benefit from available therapies, school programs, and support. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a trained specialist can diagnose a child as early as 2. Though you can often detect symptoms of autism at 18 months, a diagnosis isn’t considered reliable until the child is at least 2. 

Simply put, the earlier, the better with regard to a diagnosis.

How is Autism Diagnosed in Children?

There is no definitive test for autism. No blood test, urine sample, or MRI can decisively provide an autism diagnosis.

Instead, medical professionals and other trained specialists must rely on observation and the voiced concerns of parents to determine whether a child or young adult is autistic.

Since autism is a spectrum disorder, many symptoms fall under the autism umbrella. 

Getting an autism diagnosis is a two-step process.

Well-child visits 

When parents inquire when to get an autism diagnosis, we usually tell them if their child is over two years old, it’s already started.

Since early intervention is critical, usually, the first inquiries regarding autism begin when your child is initially assessed at their 18-24 month well-child checkups. 

Your child’s pediatrician or primary care provider will use various tools in combination with the answers you provide to their pointed questions.

Some examples of screening tests for toddlers include the following:

  • Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)
  • Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS)
  • Screening Tool for Autism in two-year-olds (STAT)
  • Checklist of Autism in Toddlers
  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)

Don’t be alarmed if your child’s physician intently watches and talks to your child. This is all part of the process.  

They may ask you questions about your family’s medical history (some mutations of autism are hereditary).

They also may ask you the following examples of questions about your toddler:

  • Does your baby copy the sounds and facial expressions of others
  • Are they smiling, and when did that begin?
  • Do they respond to their name or when someone tries to get their attention?
  • Are they sensitive to noise, temperature, or light?
  • Are they experiencing any difficulties with digestion or sleep?
  • Do they get angry or frustrated easily during their day?

Remember, answering your child’s pediatrician as honestly as possible is essential. 

Further Tests Required

If there are concerns about your toddler’s development, your next appointment will likely occur with a team of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) specialists. 

They might include a developmental pediatrician, child psychologist, occupational therapist, and speech pathologist.

This formal professional evaluation will examine your child’s language capacity, cognitive level, and life skills, such as dressing and feeding themselves (i.e., if they’re old enough) and using the bathroom.

How is Autism Diagnosed in Teens and Young Adults?

Girl upset looking out of window

The symptoms of autism in a teen or young adult can be difficult to spot because, as a spectrum disorder, there are a wide range of signs. 

Additionally, teens typically begin puberty between the ages of 11 and 13. This is a time of enormous physical emotional growth and change in their lives. 

Therefore, the behavioral changes you’re witnessing might be those of a neurotypical teen instead of a young adult with autism.

The easiest way to begin an autism evaluation is with self-evaluation. Though these tests cannot give you a definitive answer, they might help your teen and you better understand their feelings and why.

Self-evaluation

Self-tests are primarily available online and are free.

The most common autism screening tests include some of the following:

  • Adult Repetitive Behaviors Questionnaire-2 (RBQ-2A)

This autism screening test emphasizes the repetitive and restrictive behaviors prevalent with this developmental disorder.

  • Adult Social Behavior Questionnaire (ASBQ)

This test is instrumental in identifying the mild symptoms of ASD. Containing 44 questions, this test covers a wide range of autism indicators.

  • Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ-10)

This top-rated screening tool is a condensed version of another test. Available online, this autism evaluation instrument is free to use.  

Initial Screening

Once your teen or young adult has completed the self-evaluation tests, it’s time to make an appointment with their primary care provider or pediatrician. 

Usually, they’ll ask you questions to determine why you might think your teen has autism. Then, they’ll write a referral to a specially trained team who can make an official diagnosis.

Professional Diagnosis

To get an accurate autism diagnosis, your teen or young adult must meet with a well-qualified team of specialists. They are the ones who can complete a comprehensive autism evaluation. 

This team might include a psychiatrist, occupational therapist, psychologist, and speech therapist. 

As a part of the professional diagnosis, this team will depend on several factors, including the following:

  • Results of self-screening tests
  • Results of clinical observations or evaluations done by your teen’s primary care provider
  • You and your family’s observations of your teen’s behavior both at home and in a social setting.

Throughout the autism evaluation process, remember that your teen or young adult will probably have feelings of confusion, anxiety, and anger. 

Unlike children diagnosed early, teens and adults haven’t had the opportunity to grow up knowing they’re autistic. It hasn’t become part of their identity like it has with autistic children. 

So, however, your teen is feeling around this diagnosis, make sure you, as their parent, honor that and remind them you’re here to work together towards a solution. 

Where To Get An Autism Diagnosis

At Heartlinks, one of the most common questions is, “Where can I get an autism diagnosis for my child?”

First, begin with your child or teen’s primary care practitioner. They should be the ones who know which specialists are located in your area and can provide a medical diagnosis.

Additionally, many specialist teams require a doctor’s referral before beginning.

If your teen or young adult doesn’t have a primary care provider, look for a psychiatrist, developmental pediatrician, or pediatric neurologist. All of them usually have training in diagnosing autism.  

Or you can find recommendations of experienced and knowledgeable professionals in your area by contacting one of the following:

  • Your local autism support group
  • Your regional autism society
  • Friends or acquaintances who have teens or children with autism.

How Heartlinks Can Help 

At Heartlinks, we often remind the families of our autistic clients that receiving a diagnosis isn’t the end. 

Instead, it is a beginning. 

An autism diagnosis is a life-changing experience for not only your child or young adult but also the rest of the family.

Heartlinks encourages parents to seek the help they need to acquire a proper diagnosis of autism. 

Once that’s achieved, you’ll discover a new door has opened, and a journey of awareness and personal growth for your child or teen has just begun.
Contact us here for more information on how we can help. 

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