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What disorders are sometimes misdiagnosed as autism in children?

Since autism spectrum disorders have a diverse symptom presentation there are several disorders that can present with similar symptoms. Intellectual disability, speech/language delay, ADHD, selective mutism, and anxiety disorders are some of the differential diagnoses that one must consider when making an autism diagnosis. 

Dr. Heather Wittenberg, PhD
Psychology Specialist

I am worried that there are several other distinct disorders being thrown together inappropriately with autism. Children with these disorders deserve to have them studied and understood uniquely, and not just lumped together with other disorders. In particular, there is a large group of children with sensory and motor problems; for example, a baby born with difficulty in tracking her vision. She cannot control her eyes properly so she cannot make eye contact with her parents. She does not learn to communicate well because she cannot make her eyes look where she wants them to go. Her parents think she does not “want” to look at them to communicate. These days, when clinicians hear that a baby does not make eye contact, they immediately think “autism.” But in this case, it is primarily a visual problem -- one that, if corrected, will completely eliminate all her delays and symptoms.

One thing that healthcare professionals seem to agree on is the fact that “autism” is really a general term for many different disorders, each with different causes and outcomes. We need to work harder at understanding all of the unique disorders that are now being lumped together under one umbrella.

Dr. Ronald Leaf
Psychology Specialist

Watch as licensed psychologist and autism specialist Dr. Ronald Leaf explains which disorders can sometimes be misdiagnosed as autism in children.

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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.