According to the CDC “About 1 in 59 children [have] been identified with autism spectrum disorder.” For a family member of a child a under the Autism Spectrum, such as me, these new reports are deeply upsetting and scary. I can only imagine the shock and sadness experienced by those parents whose children have recently been diagnosed under the Autism Spectrum, as was the case for my parents when Anjali was diagnosed. These reports also formed a few important questions in my mind. What is the diagnostic process like, and are there any recent changes? What could be the reason for these rising rates of Autism Spectrum, and does the diagnostic process play a role?
First and foremost, I want to share the multiple components of the diagnosis process, and the recent changes in the process. The initial component of the diagnosis involves the parents or the child’s pediatrician identifying symptoms of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms may include “Making . . . inconsistent eye contact, unusual tone of voice, getting upset by slight changes in a routine, etc.” If the child shows multiple symptoms, their diagnosis process moves onto the next stage. This stage involves regular screening during “Well-Child” checkups, provided by the American Pediatric Association.
Additional evaluation ist then conducted in this diagnostic process. A team of ASD diagnosis experts, often times including the child’s developmental pediatrician, a child psychologist, and a speech-language pathologist along with other professionals, conduct a series of tests and observations with the child and their behaviour. The child is put through a collection of cognitive thinking tests, tests for their lingual ability, and observing whether they can independently conduct day to day activities (i.e eating, drinking). “ASD is a complex disorder that sometimes occurs along with other illnesses or learning disorders,” (NIMH) which causes doctors to run additional examinations in order to rule out any other causes for ASD. These examinations include blood tests and hearing tests.
Finally, I want to talk about how this diagnosis has changed in recent years, and the possibility of these changes affecting the rate of ASD. In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was updated. Due to this revision, patients who were diagnosed under more specific conditions, such as Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), are all now classified under ASD. These leads one to questions whether the addition of these conditions to the group of ASD cases has increased the rate of cases overall?
Hopefully this post helped you understand the diagnosis of ASD, thus helping you gain a better perspective on the condition as a whole. I strongly encourage all of you to learn more on this topic, and the possibility of the ASD rate being affected by this diagnosis change.
P.S. This is my first academic/research related post. These type of posts are intended for those readers who would want a look into the medical side of ASD and other special needs, and these post have a much more formal and academic tone. I shall release one such post every month, alongside a post sharing my family’s personal experiences. Feel free to contact me and provide any feedback.