Archive for July 6th, 2008

How is Autism Diagnosed?

Since Autism varies from individual to individual, doctors rely on some basic, core behaviors to diagnose Autism and to determine how severe it is for each individual.  The earlier Autism is diagnosed, the earlier treatment can begin, often keeping symptoms from progressing a lot and helping the individual and family to work with Autism more successfully.

The behaviors that doctors look for in order to diagnose Autism include difficulty making friends or connecting with peers,  difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations; minimal patterns of interest – especially when they are abnormal in the amount of focus or intensity, sticking to an inflexible routine or pattern, such as in eating or dressing or other areas of life; staying very preoccupied with or focused on certain specific objects or subjects; using repetitive, stereotyped or unusual language; inability or impairment with regard to social play or imagination. 

Sometimes doctors use questionnaires along with their other diagnostic tools.  Questionnaires and other screening tools rely on parents and/or caregiver’s experience and observations of the child.  This input is extremely important because there are many observations that parents and caregivers see on a day-to-day basis that will help the doctor determine helpful information that will enhance the doctor’s evaluation, especially in areas where there might be a question.

Autism is complex and requires not only the child’s doctor, but a team approach including specialists such as a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, speech therapist and others.  Usually, your child’s primary care physician will gather this team together.  Since Autism affects so many aspects of the individual’s life, having a team of specialists that can compare notes and work together should ensure that the individual is cared for in every aspect of the disease.  This will create the best chance for the biggest improvement.

For information on Autism two of the best resources are Autism Society of America at 1-800-328-8476 or on the web at www.autism-society.org and Autism Research Institute at 1-619-281-7165 or on the web at www.autismresearchinstitute.com.

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Symptoms of Autism

Autism is a developmental brain disorder that usually occurs in children under three years old.  The disease can affect various parts of the brain and result in symptoms such as restricted movement, repetitive movement and impairment of communication and social interaction. 

Some individuals have severe issues with Autism, such as movements involving flapping and rocking.  Others have various communication issues.  Individuals with Autism can be low, medium or high functioning depending on how much assistance they need with daily living.  There is no official threshold for these classifications, so they can be very controversial.

An individual with Autism usually has a pattern of several symptoms rather than just one symptom.  Symptoms usually occur during childhood and can continue through adulthood.  Some symptoms, for instance are showing less attention and reaction to stimuli than other people, not smiling, looking at others or using eye contact with others. 

Quite often, individuals with autism are quite intelligent but have few ways to show their intelligence.  They can understand more than what the people around them such as family, friends and caregivers realize, and in many cases have special abilities ranging from memorization of facts, unique use of computers, and even being a prodigy at music, art or in other areas. 

At least half of parents notice their child’s Autistic symptoms by 18 months and more parents are aware of these symptoms by 24 months of age.  It is essential that diagnosis and treatment be sought right away so that symptoms can be addressed – and minimized – to the fullest extent.

Symptoms that a majority of parents have reported include no babbling or baby talk by age 12 months, no pointing or waving – such as waving goodbye – by 12 months, not trying to say single or individual words by 12 months, no two-word combinations – especially spontaneously – by 24 months, and/or any loss of language or social skills at any age.

If your child – or a child you know – has these symptoms it is essential for them to be seen by their family doctor and/or a specialist as soon as possible so that they can be diagnosed, addressed and hopefully decreased.  There is more information regarding Autism every day, and there are promising treatments to help control or diminish symptoms when they are dealt with early.

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