Is It Worth Getting an Autism Diagnosis for My Child?
This is a common question for most families of children who might be autistic. Parents across the nation have both good and bad thoughts about autistic diagnoses and the diagnostic process.
As an educator, I respect their opinions. From my experience, however, it is imperative to get a diagnosis, even if just for clarity. And the sooner you identify autism, the sooner you can take action to encourage healthy development. Sometimes, that takes a little extra help. You can think of the extra help as being like a tutor for promoting healthy lifestyle habits.
There are widespread misconceptions people hear when receiving an autism diagnosis. Doctors tell parents their child will never walk or attend a regular school. Newsflash – they’re wrong! As a former behavior technician, I’ve learned that autism is essentially just a label for an association of behaviors and characteristics. By applying some therapeutic concepts, these behaviors can be reduced and/or eliminated.
Your Trust, Communication, and Education Can Help Your Autistic Child
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the time between a parent’s first concerns and gaining access to an expert clinician takes, on average, three-and-a-half years. So, my first piece of advice for parents is to trust yourselves.
If you have a concern, start by talking to your primary care physician (PCP). They are the gatekeeper for your child’s health.4 Along with this communication, be engaged in the process by researching clinics that offer information that can help your developing child.
Parents, along with trusting yourself and communicating with your PCP, take action by learning as much as you can. Having the right knowledge allows you to know how to assist in your child’s development.
As a former case manager for autism, I can say that most families are simply unaware of how to support their child. Often, parents learn there is something different about their child’s development and want to ensure they have opportunities doctors and specialists say they won’t be able to. It just takes some education to make that happen.
Recognizing the Benefits of Early Diagnosis
In the same way that an army vet suffering from PTSD must seeking counseling to help battle problematic thoughts and feelings, children diagnosed with autism need access to certain resources. In this case, autistic youth can benefit from things that reduce anxiety and frustration and relieve the sense of being overwhelmed.
The earlier an autistic youth has access to these resources, the better. As you help your child, you will notice greater trust in yourself and you learn more, so it’s best to start this process sooner. It will also put your child in a better position, as they can begin developing a foundation and being more capable of living with minimal assistance.
“Late diagnosis is associated with increased parental stress and delays early intervention, which is critical to positive outcomes over time.2,3 This is particularly important because studies have found that interventions implemented before age 4 (e.g., 12–48 months) are associated with significant gains in cognition, language, and adaptive behavior.5” (Zwaigenbaum L, Bauman ML, & Stone WL, 2015)
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Characteristics
Typically, a neurotypical child will respond when their name is called and interacts socially by showing emotion and gesturing for attention. If you notice your child does not respond to their name when called, does not know how to socialize with others, and/or has a strong preference for being alone, then you should consider asking your child’s pediatrician questions about this behavior. From there, it’s possible testing may help show if your child is developmentally on track.
Some other common ASD characteristics noted in the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) include “persistent social and communication deficits and the presence of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors and/or interests, and sensory differences.1”
What to Do After an Autism Diagnosis
Remember, there is no cure for autism. Once someone is diagnosed, they will always be autistic. But you can learn about available services to help your child thrive in society.
For example, if you live in West Michigan and are seeking professional diagnostic services for your child, you may want to schedule an appointment with Waypoints. Along with diagnosing and evaluating youth, our team of certified, highly educated specialists also provide services to help autistic children develop skills for life.
Of course, while you can certainly bring your son or daughter to see us at any point in their childhood or adolescence, hopefully you see now that earlier intervention is best for them and for you (and the rest of the family). And no matter if you simply have questions for us or are ready to schedule an appointment, please feel free to reach us at (616) 251-8162 or by filling out our online contact form.
- American Psychological Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
- Dawson G, Rogers S, Munson J, et al. Randomized, controlled trial of an intervention for toddlers with autism: the Early Start Denver Model. Pediatrics. 2010;125(1): e17–e23.
- Elder JH. Assisting parents in adapting and making decisions regarding the most efficacious treatment options. In: Giarelli E, Fisher KM, editors. Integrated Health Care for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Interdisciplinary Planning and Delivery of Care. Spring eld, IL: Charles C. Thomas, Publishers Ltd.; 2016: 173–192.
- The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. (2019, August 5). Advice for Parents Concerned About Autism. https://www.bbrfoundation.org/blog/advice-parents-concerned-about-autism
- Zwaigenbaum L, Bauman ML, Stone WL, et al. Early identification of autism spectrum disorder: recommendations for practice and research. Pediatrics. 2015;136 (Suppl 1): S10–S40.
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