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How is autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosed?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) varies widely in severity and symptoms and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected children, or when it is masked by more debilitating handicaps.

Many of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) occur in very young children, so it is possible for children as young as 18 months to be diagnosed with ASDs. Early signs include delays in language and social development, as well as repetitive behaviors and poor eye contact.

Later indicators include:

  • Impaired ability to make friends with peers
  • Impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • Absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
  • Stereotyped, repetitive or unusual use of language
  • Restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • Preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
  • Inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals

Healthcare providers will often use a questionnaire or other screening instruments to gather information about a child's development and behavior. Some screening instruments rely solely on the parent's observations, while others rely on a combination of parent's and doctor's observations. If the screening instruments indicate the possibility of ASD, a more comprehensive evaluation is indicated.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is tricky because it affects everyone differently, and there's no quick test to confirm it. Basically, if a person shows signs of ASD, a team of health professionals and experts will observe that person. They also ask the person's parents lots of questions to determine if he or she has ASD and how best to help him or her.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.