Thursday, April 25, 2013

Who Can and Who Cannot Diagnose Autism?

What is autism?

"Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), also called Pervasive Developmental Disorders, are a cluster of neurobiological disorders that develop during childhood before the age of three. Autism is a different way of thinking and approaching the world. We know that autism is not caused by an emotional disturbance, and it is definitely not caused by bad parenting."

What are the Red Flags of Autism?

A person with an ASD might:
  • Not respond to their name by 12 months of age
  • Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
  • Not play "pretend" games (pretend to "feed" a doll) by 18 months
  • Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • Have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Examples of social issues related to ASDs:
  • Does not respond to name by 12 months of age
  • Avoids eye-contact
  • Prefers to play alone
  • Does not share interests with others
  • Only interacts to achieve a desired goal
  • Has flat or inappropriate facial expressions
  • Does not understand personal space boundaries
  • Avoids or resists physical contact
  • Is not comforted by others during distress
  • Has trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about own feelings

Examples of communication issues related to ASDs:
  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Reverses pronouns (e.g., says "you" instead of "I")
  • Gives unrelated answers to questions
  • Does not point or respond to pointing
  • Uses few or no gestures (e.g., does not wave goodbye)
  • Talks in a flat, robot-like, or sing-song voice
  • Does not pretend in play (e.g., does not pretend to "feed" a doll)
  • Does not understand jokes, sarcasm, or teasing

Examples of unusual interests and behaviors related to ASDs:
  • Lines up toys or other objects
  • Plays with toys the same way every time
  • Likes parts of objects (e.g., wheels)
  • Is very organized
  • Gets upset by minor changes
  • Has obsessive interests
  • Has to follow certain routines
  • Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles

Some people with an ASD have other symptoms. These might include:
  • Hyperactivity (very active)
  • Impulsivity (acting without thinking)
  • Short attention span
  • Aggression
  • Causing self injury
  • Temper tantrums
  • Unusual eating and sleeping habits
  • Unusual mood or emotional reactions
  • Lack of fear or more fear than expected
  • Unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Who can diagnose autism?


A medical doctor who can diagnose autism as well as other illnesses and treat the mental health issues associated with autism.

A psychiatrist can prescribe medication or other treatments to treat issues such as depression and anxiety, aggression, ADD/ ADHD, obsessive-compulsive behavior, tic disorders, and more.


A medical doctor who can diagnose autism and other neurological disorders. A neurologist also checks the neurological functioning of the body and may order tests such as MRIs or EEGs.

A neurologist can prescribe medication or other treatments to treat issues such as depression and anxiety, aggression, ADD/ADHD, obsessive-compulsive behavior, tic disorders, seizure disorders, and more.

Developmental Pediatrician
A medical doctor who is a pediatrician with special training and certification in developmental-behavioral pediatrics.

A developmental pediatrician is skilled in diagnosis of autism and developmental disorders. This doctor looks at the whole child and can recommend treatments including medication.

A licensed psychologist with specialized training in developmental disorders, such as a clinical psychologist or neuropsychologist.

A psychologist, or neuropsychologist, can diagnose or recommend treatment for autism and other developmental disorders. He or she may address coping skills, behavior management, social skills, and strategies for improving functioning.

How is autism diagnosed?

"A medical diagnosis is made by a physician based on an assessment of symptoms and diagnostic tests. A medical diagnosis of autism, for instance, is most frequently made by a physician according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR) of the American Psychological Association (2000). This manual guides physicians in diagnosing Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified according to a specific number of symptoms.

An educational determination, in contrast, is made by a multidisciplinary evaluation team comprised of various school professionals. The evaluation results are looked at by a team of qualified professionals and the parents to determine whether a student qualifies for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Hawkins, 2009)."

Who cannot diagnose autism?

Anyone else. Not your child's teacher, not your family, not your friends, not your pediatrician. If they cannot diagnose, they cannot rule it out. This means that the teacher cannot snap across the IEP table that your child is not autistic without an evaluation. Your pediatrician cannot tell you that your non-verbal 3 year old is "just slower to talk" because "all kids develop at a different pace." Your family cannot accuse you of being paranoid. Your friends cannot tell you that you are overreacting or being a lazy parent.

***and while you are sitting there listening to them spew this garbage, know you are not alone. We all hear it.

If you are concerned that your child is not developing on schedule, if you have any concerns, ignore all of those people and get an evaluation by a professional who is qualified to diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder.

***You can find the original sources for the information I shared by following the links attached to them.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on for me once again. We all hear it is right. And how many people have I met that tell me their kid has autism but they have not even been to one of the doctors that have the ability to diagnose it?? Many. Some school Psych told them their kid has autism. Really? Grrrrr