If you’ve ever wondered if your child could have autism or be on the autism spectrum you are not alone.
Many parents who see their child not meet age-appropriate milestones may consider this being a possible cause. Parents may find themselves wondering what are the steps in investigating their concerns and can be overwhelmed with the amount of information online and from well-meaning friends.
Firstly it is important to understand you are not alone – diagnosis of being on the spectrum is not uncommon. A 2007, 3-year study in Perth by the Australian Advisory Board on Autism concluded that one in 160 children have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Because there are varying levels on the spectrum and behaviours (or symptoms) can manifest themselves in different combinations and severity, it can be hard as a parent to always identify possible autism – as well as for health professionals to diagnose definitively.
Autism normally manifests itself in the first year of a child’s life and its onset is generally not later than three years. Developmental landmarks are the traditional indicators of a potential diagnosis, with early signs perhaps including:
- Does not respond to the calling of their name
- Does not laugh
- Delayed speech
- Dislikes physical affection and/or doesn’t demonstrate physical affection
- Low or no interaction with others
- Does not smile or visually follow someone’s face communicating with them
- Low or no words
- Not weight bearing (pushing down on ground with feet when held)
- Not interested in or frightened by new faces
- Does not point
- Does not imitate or mimic other’s behaviours or actions
- A strong want / like for routine and highly repetitive play or behaviours
- Heightened sensory awareness
For a comprehensive list of possible signs the Autism Awareness web page is a great resource.
If you have concerns that your child may be showing these symptoms it is important to follow your ‘motherly instinct’ because accessing early intervention programs or services can make hugely positive differences to the child.
1. Connect with your family doctor
The first step in diagnosis is seeing your family doctor. They will be able to put you in contact via referral with an expert team who can work together to assist you in assessing and potentially diagnosing your child.
2. Be assessed by an expert 3-part team
The second step is in accessing a recommended multi-disciplinary team.
The expert team consist of a paediatrician, psychologist and speech therapist.
Together they can assess a child of (normally) 18 months or older and after several meetings will make a diagnosis. In May 2013 a new standard for diagnosis was introduced called DSM-5. The team will use these standards in making a diagnosis for your child.
3. Been diagnosed? Access services and early intervention
There are substantial proven benefits from participation in early, intensive treatment programs for autistic children. There are many early intervention services available that you can explore with your healthcare team based on your child’s particular needs. Connecting with other families via online or support groups may also give you confidence and insight into the journey ahead for you and your child.
It is recommended that you explore the options for financial support post your child’s diagnosis. Read more about this at the Department of Health, Medicare and Social Services websites. The HCWA Package includes up to $12,000 for early intervention services so it is important to know what support is available to your family.
As a parent, you know your child better than anyone. Take confidence in your own expert knowledge of your child and follow your instincts if you have concerns about your child’s development. Early intervention is a powerful tool for children on the autism spectrum and your prompt action could make a considerable long-term difference to your child’s overall impacts by autism. Please see your family doctor if you have any concerns and progress through the steps of diagnosis – as with all health issues for our children there is no harm in checking!
For more information on speech delay and communication for children on the autism spectrum you can contact Box Hill Speech Pathology Clinic.