Autism Spectrum Disorders, often known by the blanket term Autism, refers to a number of complex disorders in brain development. These disorders vary greatly, but each form includes some degree of difficulty in social interaction, verbal and/or nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. At this time, it is uncertain what causes Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), but there is strong evidence to suggest it is a sort of “perfect storm” situation, incorporating both genetic and environmental factors.
Unfortunately, the perfect storm arrangement can make diagnosing ASD complicated. A doctor cannot simply order a blood test to determine the presence of some X-factor. Specially trained psychologists and physicians must administer a series of behavioral evaluations designed to detect ASD.
Parents are often the first to notice abnormal behaviors in a child. Parents should trust their instincts and contact their pediatrician if they have concerns about the development of their child. Your pediatrician can help parents get the ball rolling and refer you to the appropriate professionals and facilities. Instead of waiting for abnormalities to present themselves, many medical professionals are recommending regular screening for developmental milestones from birth through at least 36 months of age during regular check-ups. If concerns are raised during these routine screenings, the pediatrician may refer the parent to the same professionals.
A typical ASD diagnostic screening involves a variety of professionals, including a psychologist, pediatrician, speech and language pathologist, and occupational therapist. Genetic testing may be considered, though this by itself is not enough for a diagnosis. Some of the things these professionals are looking for include regular physical growth and development, hearing and vision tests, and possibility of lead poisoning. PICA, a condition in which a person desires to eat items that are not food, such as dirt, metal, or painted objects, creates a greater risk of lead poisoning.
The diagnosis of ASD may seem terrifying to any parent, but ASD is not necessarily as horrifying as it sounds. Early diagnosis may allow for therapy to take place early in life. While therapies may not be able to cure ASD, therapies may significantly increase quality of life and functionality. Your child’s medical team will help take care of your child’s needs, and may also help you, as the parent, find support groups or therapy to help you adjust to this scary, but absolutely manageable, situation.