Screening Children for Autism Spectrum Disorder

4/8/2019

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. Although autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age two, most children are being diagnosed after age four.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism. Children with ASD have difficulty with social communication and interaction, restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. “Autism is a ‘spectrum’ disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience,” said Mayada Elian, MD, ARH family medicine. “Although ASD can be a lifelong disorder, treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function.”

According to Dr. Elian, children with ASD have difficulty with social communication and interaction. They tend not to look or listen to people and are slow to respond when someone is talking to them. Even their tone of voice may sound flat and robot-like and their facial expressions and gestures often do not match what is being said.

Children may exhibit restrictive or repetitive behaviors which may include: repeating words or phrases, a behavior called echolalia, having a lasting intense interest in certain topics such as numbers or facts, being overly focused on moving objects or parts of objects or being more or less sensitive to sensory input such as light, noise or temperature.

“While the exact cause of ASD is unknown, research suggests that genes can act together with influences from the environment to affect development in ways that lead to ASD,” shared Dr. Elian.

Doctors diagnose ASD by looking at a person’s behavior and development. ASD can usually be reliably diagnosed by the age of two. It is important for those with concerns to seek out assessment as soon as possible so that a diagnosis can be made, and treatment can begin.

The evaluation may assess cognitive level or thinking skills, language abilities, age-appropriate skills needed to complete daily activities independently such as eating, dressing and toileting. Because ASD is a complex disorder that sometimes occurs along with other illnesses or learning disorders, the comprehensive evaluation may include blood and hearing tests.

The outcome of the evaluation will result in a formal diagnosis and recommendations for treatment. If you need to have your child evaluated, talk with your physician or if you need a physician, go to www.arh.org/findadoc or call your local ARH hospital.

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