Navigating the autism diagnosis process can be overwhelming for individuals and their families, but understanding the steps involved and accessing available resources can make the journey more manageable.
Here is a step-by-step guide to help you through the process.
Identifying early signs and symptoms:
Some common early signs of autism include:
A. Delayed speech or language skills:
No babbling or pointing by age 1
No single words by age 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
Loss of previously acquired speech or language skills
Difficulty understanding or following simple instructions
B. Repetitive behaviors or interests:
Hand flapping, rocking, spinning, or other repetitive body movements
Obsessive interest in specific topics or objects
Insistence on routines and difficulty adapting to changes
Repetitive use of toys or play patterns, such as lining up objects or repeatedly opening and closing doors
C. Difficulty making eye contact or engaging in conversation:
Limited or inconsistent eye contact
Difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations
Absence of, or limited use of, nonverbal communication, such as gestures, facial expressions, or body language
Limited understanding of social cues, making it difficult to form or maintain friendships
D. Sensitivity to sensory input:
Over- or under-reactivity to sensory stimuli, such as sounds, textures, tastes, or smells
Unusual preferences or aversions to certain textures or types of clothing
Difficulty tolerating loud noises or bright lights
Seeking or avoiding certain sensory experiences, such as touching, spinning, or pressure
E. Other early signs to consider:
Unusual or delayed motor development, such as crawling, walking, or grasping objects
Challenges with imaginative play or engaging in age-appropriate play activities
Preference for solitary play or difficulty participating in group activities
Difficulty understanding or expressing emotions
It's important to remember that not every individual with autism will exhibit all these signs, and some may show only a few. If you notice any of these symptoms or have concerns about your child's development, consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation.
Consult with a professional:
If you suspect that you or your loved one may have autism, consult with a pediatrician, family doctor, or mental health professional. They can provide guidance on whether further assessment is necessary.
Referral for evaluation:
The healthcare professional may refer you to a specialist, such as a developmental pediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist, who is experienced in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Note that an autism diagnosis is typically only recognized by insurance companies if it is completed by a psychologist or developmental pediatrician. Some organizations, such as The Griffin Promise Autism Clinic in Broken Arrow, offer paid diagnoses conducted by speech therapists. However, insurance companies may not compensate for services based on this type of autism screening diagnosis. It is essential to verify the qualifications of the professional administering the assessment and ensure that their diagnosis will be recognized by your insurance provider.
A thorough assessment includes a variety of tools, such as:
Observations of the individual's behavior
Interviews with parents or caregivers
Standardized tests and questionnaires
Medical tests to rule out other conditions
The specialist will use the information gathered from the evaluation to determine if an autism diagnosis is appropriate. If diagnosed, the individual will be placed on the autism spectrum, which ranges from mild to severe.
Create an intervention plan:
Work with professionals to develop a personalized intervention plan that addresses the individual's specific needs. This may include:
Speech and language therapy
Access resources and support:
Connect with organizations and groups that provide resources, services, and support for individuals with autism and their families, such as:
Educate yourself and advocate:
To better understand and advocate for the needs of the individual with ASD, take the following steps:
Read books on autism, such as "The Reason I Jump" by Naoki Higashida, "NeuroTribes" by Steve Silberman, and "Thinking in Pictures" by Temple Grandin.
Follow reputable websites and blogs, such as The Mighty (themighty.com), The Autism Helper (theautismhelper.com), and The Art of Autism (the-art-of-autism.com).
Attend workshops, conferences, and webinars hosted by organizations like Autism Speaks or the Autism Society, which provide valuable insights from experts and other families.
Join online forums or support groups, such as the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) group on Facebook or the Autism Community on Reddit, to share experiences and learn from others.
Connect with local organizations and support groups for in-person meetings, workshops, and other educational opportunities.
Monitor progress and adjust the plan:
As the individual with autism grows and develops, their needs may change. To ensure continued progress and success, take these steps:
Schedule regular progress reviews with the intervention team, including therapists, teachers, and healthcare providers, to discuss achievements and areas for improvement.
Update the intervention plan based on the individual's evolving needs and goals, incorporating new strategies or therapies as necessary.
Maintain open communication with the individual with autism, their caregivers, and professionals to stay informed about any changes in behavior, needs, or preferences.
Stay informed about the latest research, treatments, and resources in the field of autism, as new developments may offer additional support for the individual's growth and development.
Celebrate successes, no matter how small, to maintain motivation and recognize the progress being made.
Remember, it's essential to be patient and persistent throughout this process. Autism is a lifelong condition, but with the right support and resources, individuals with autism can lead fulfilling lives.