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Autism Spectrum Disorder Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis

Autism spectrum disorder symptoms, signs and what is included in an autism assessment. Includes DSM-5 info on autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.

The new criteria for autism spectrum disorder focuses on two areas where individuals must show persistent impairment instead of the three domains of autism symptoms in DSM-IV. The domains are as follows:

  1. persistent impairment in social communication and interaction
  2. repetitive and restrictive behavior patterns, such as repeatedly rocking back and forth and insisting that toys or other objects stay in neat rows or other organizational pattern.

The DSM-5 spells out that clinicians rate the severity of impairment based on the level of intervention and support the deficits require. If your child shows deficits in these areas, make an appointment with your pediatrician and he or she can arrange an autism assessment with a qualified clinician for your child. (Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder – Learning, Behavior Issues)

Autism Spectrum Disorder Signs

Autism spectrum disorder signs vary by individual, as does severity. This may result in the signs going unnoticed, especially in children with mild autism. It's important to note that, in some cases, symptoms can lessen over time, but studies show that over 70 percent of adults with autism are still dependent on their families and need help attending to basic daily living duties. It's important that these adults continue to receive qualified assistance and familial support. The earlier an individual receives an accurate diagnosis, the better the future outcome. If your child exhibits any of the following signs, he or she may need an autism assessment:

  • No babbling or "baby talk" by 12 months
  • No single words by 16 months or no two-word phrases by 24 months
  • Does not respond to name by age 1
  • Rapid loss of attained language or social skills
  • Poor eye contact
  • Excessive lining up or organizing toys and objects
  • No smiling in response to your smile
  • Diminished ability to make and maintain friendships
  • Inability to initiate or maintain casual conversation with others
  • Absence of pretend play and imaginative social play (i.e. playing house, doctor)
  • Repetitive or unusual use of language
  • Narrow patterns of interest that are excessive
  • Excessive preoccupation with certain topics or objects
  • Excessive resistance to change in routine

Your family physician or clinician will use a questionnaire or other tool to collect information about your child's development and behavior patterns.

Autism Assessment and Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms

Clinicians, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, will give your child an autism assessment to determine if he or she is exhibiting autism spectrum disorder symptoms or if it's something else. The DSM-5 requires that symptoms appear in early childhood even if they're not recognized until later.

To receive an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, individuals must meet all of the following criteria associated with impairment in social communication and interaction across various settings:

  • Difficulty engaging in social or emotional interactions. The individual will have problems establishing and maintaining the normal give-and-take required in conversational interactions. He or she seemingly cannot initiate interaction and will have issues sharing feelings and interests with others.
  • Persistent and marked difficulty maintaining social relationships. The child may not have any interest in others and may not have the ability to engage in pretend play and other age-appropriate activities. He or she may not have the ability to adjust to changes in social contexts and requirements.
  • Nonverbal communication difficulties. The child may have problems establishing and maintaining eye contact and have an inability to understand and respond to body language, such as posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, and other cues.

Individuals must meet two of the four symptoms related to repetitive and restrictive behavior patterns:

  • Repetitive or restrictive speech, body movements, or use of objects (i.e. lining up toys)
  • Ritualized patterns of behavior, both verbal and nonverbal and excessive insistence on adhering to routines
  • Narrow and highly restricted interests that are excessive in focus or intensity
  • Hyper- or hypo-sensitivity to environmental sensory inputs (i.e. temperature, texture, sound) or excessive interest in these aspects of the external environment

Austism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis

A comprehensive autism assessment requires the collaboration of several professionals: psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, speech therapist, and others. These professionals will conduct a thorough neurological exam as well as cognitive and language testing. This will help clinicians identify the severity of autism, which will allow them to develop an effective therapy and intervention plan based on the child's individual needs. (Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder: Therapy, Resources)

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next: Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder
~ all autism spectrum disorder articles
~ all neurodevelopmental disorders articles

Last Updated: 08 August 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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