North Center for
Diagnosis & Intervention

Special Corner




How is Autim Diagnosed?


Parents are often the first to notice that something is not right with their child. A child may be unresponsive from birth, cry excessively, not make eye contact, or focus obsessively on an object for a long period of time. Some children who seemed to be developing normally suddenly stop babbling, become indifferent to others, lose imaginative play skills, do not respond to their name, and become uninterested in playing with other children.

In evaluating a child, doctors rely on these behavioral characteristics to make a diagnosis. A well-child checkup should include observational data and a developmental screening. Parents' observations are essential in a proper screening. In addition, several tools are commonly used to screen for autism, including the Checklist of Autism in Toddlers (CHAT) and the Comprehensive Autism Ratings Scale (CARS). These basic screening tools do not provide a diagnosis, but rather indicate whether a child should be referred for further evaluation.

Usually, a team of specialists is involved in the diagnosis. The team may include a neurologist, psychiatrist, developmental pediatrician, psychologist, gastroenterologist, audiologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and other professionals. Because there is no medical test or biomarker for autism, diagnosis is based on observation of the child's behavior, educational and psychological testing, and parent reporting. Usually the team members evaluate the child, assessing his or her strengths and weaknesses, and then explain the test results to parents.

The moment when parents learn that their child is autistic is devastating, even if they suspected something was wrong. Unlike other diseases, autism carries no defined treatment protocol. Unfortunately, all too often parents are on their own and must begin navigating the complex web of treatments, interventions, and therapies to determine which intervention approach might be best for their child. Gaining as much information as possible is critical to becoming an effective advocate for your child
Are Vaccines to Blame?
Growing evidence suggests that a small minority of persons with autism progress to the point where they no longer meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Various theories exist as to why this happens. They include the possibility of an initial misdiagnosis, the possibility that some children mature out of certain forms of autism and the possibility that successful treatment can, in some instances, produce outcomes that no longer meet the criteria for an autism diagnosis.

You may also hear about children diagnosed with autism who reach “best outcome” status. This means they have scored within normal ranges on tests for IQ, language, adaptive functioning, school placement and personality, but still have mild symptoms on some personality and diagnostic tests.

Some children who no longer meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder are later diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder or a relatively high-functioning form of autism such as Asperger Syndrome.

Currently, we don’t know what percentage of persons with autism will progress to the point where they “lose their diagnosis.” We likewise need further research to determine what genetic, physiological or developmental factors might predict who will achieve such outcomes.

We do know that significant improvement in autism symptoms is most often reported in connection with intensive early intervention—though at present, we cannot predict which children will have such responses to therapy.

We also know that many people with autism go on to live independent and fulfilling lives, and that all deserve the opportunity to work productively, develop meaningful and fulfilling relationships and enjoy life. With better interventions and supports available, those affected by autism are having better outcomes in all spheres of life.


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