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Spotlight on an Autism Diagnosis

written by: Samantha Bangayan • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 2/25/2011

An accurate autism diagnosis requires a thorough assessment of three skill areas: social interaction, communication and behavior. In order to be diagnosed with autism, an individual must show specific impairments in all three areas.

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    Autism Diagnosis

    Health professionals use many questionnaires to help diagnose autism. Clinicians use many different questionnaires to diagnose autism spectrum disorders, but they all touch on impairments in social interaction, communication skills and behavior. Since there is a wide range of measurable disability in autism, and its diagnostic criteria overlap with other developmental disorders, not all clinicians will agree on diagnoses. Get a thorough assessment from a multidisciplinary team who can accurately measure disability levels in the three areas of deficit. To be diagnosed with autism, a patient must show one or more of the following criteria in each area.

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    Social Interaction

    Differences in or avoidance of social interaction is one of the first signs of autism. A patient with autism:

    • Shows impaired nonverbal behavior. People with autism lack joint attention skills and often do not make eye contact, point or otherwise gesture.
    • Has difficulty with social relationships. People with autism may avoid social interaction or respond inappropriately during social situations.
    • May not respond to or dislike being hugged or cuddled.
    • Is often susceptible to teasing or bullying.
    • Does not imitate actions or learn from other people.
    • Prefers to spend time alone and is often described as independent. Children with autism often don’t play with others and don’t develop pretend play skills.
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    Communication Skills

    Language development and idiosyncrasies of communication come into play at the toddlerhood stage. A patient with autism:

    • May be delayed in language development or never develop speech.
    • Has difficulty maintaining conversation by taking turns. People with autism often talk about what interests them without regarding the other person’s interests or opinions.
    • Displays echolalia, repeating words after someone says them or memorizing phrases and repeating them at a later time.
    • Does not communicate needs.
    • Does not follow directions properly, if at all.
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    Behavior

    An autism diagnosis largely depends on behavioral observations of the parents and the specialists. A patient with autism:

    • Shows an intense interest in a specific subject, object or parts of objects. People with autism can become extremely knowledgeable about a topic, such as dinosaurs, animals or trains.
    • Plays with toys inappropriately, lines up toys or shows attachment to a single toy and always carries it around.
    • Is inflexible and may become upset when there are unexpected changes to a routine or the environment.
    • Exhibits repetitive and restricted actions, such as rocking or arm flapping. People with autism may become distraught if their movements are interrupted.
    • May throw tantrums or hurt himself or herself when distressed.
    • Performs ritualistic and repetitive behaviors, such as closing doors or transferring water from one container to another.
    • Can have hypersensitive senses. For example, people with autism may react negatively to certain tastes or loud sounds.
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    References

    • Filipek, Paul A., et al. “The Screening and Diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorders.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 1999.
      (http://www.forockids.org/PDF%20Docs/AU2906_241reprint.pdf)
    • Image Credit: ppdigital, http://mrg.bz/quladq