Have you noticed that your child does not share similar interests of others or he or she has a speech delay? Perhaps your child does not show facial expressions or has trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings. Do you wonder why your child engages in these behaviors and question what might be going on for him or her?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, your child may have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD consists of a group of developmental disabilities caused by differences in the brain. These developmental disabilities can cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges.
Autism typically begins before the age of 3 and can last throughout a person’s life, however, the severity of symptoms may dissipate over time, particularly with the help of specialized testing and therapy.
As a parent or caregiver, you may wonder how does ASD present itself?
The answer to this question varies depending on the severity of ASD and the abilities of the individual diagnosed. For example, some people diagnosed with ASD may have very developed conversation and communication skills while others may be nonverbal.
It is also important to keep in mind that nothing about how people with ASD look sets them apart from others. However, two of the main challenge’s individuals with ASD struggle with are social communication and interactions skills and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests.
While not complete in inclusivity, symptoms of ASD can include:
Social Communication and Interaction Skills
- Avoidance of or inability to keep eye contact
- Does not show facial expressions
- Does not share interests with others and lacks interest in peers
- Has trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
Restricted or Repetitive Behaviors or Interests
- Lines up toys or other objects and gets upset when the order is changed
- Repeats words or phrases over and over
- Focused on parts of objects (e.g., motors)
- Has obsessive interests
- Gets upset by minor changes
- Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles
- Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
- Delayed language skills
- Unusual eating or sleeping habits
- Delayed movement skills
- Delayed cognitive or learning skills
- Lack of fear or more fear than expected
- Unusual mood or emotional reactions
Accepting the possibility of your child having autism can be overwhelming for some parents and caregivers. In any situation, it likely leaves you questioning, “What do I do now?” If you have this question, you might consider an autism evaluation for your child.
It is important to know that a child psychiatrist or psychologist, pediatric neurologist, or a developmental pediatrician are the only licensed individuals who can appropriately conduct the necessary testing and accurately diagnose a child with ASD.
What is involved during autism testing for children?
Testing for autism is done across multiple sessions. The first appointment will focus on gathering important information about your child. The second appointment (and sometimes third appointment) will focus on the actual testing portion.
Parents can ask some questions to try to gauge a potential provider’s experience. Some questions you might ask the provider include:
- What is your training and experience?
- Have you had specific training in assessment of people of the autism spectrum? How much?
- What do you plan to do as part of the assessment?
- Will you be contacting my child’s teacher or pediatrician?
How can I prepare for the first autism testing appointment?
During the first appointment, the specialist will be asking pertinent questions related to your child’s health history, family history, birth history, personal health, developmental history, and behavioral history.
It may be a good idea to come prepared with your own notes about each of these areas. For example, you might jot down:
- Official medical documentation of health difficulties for your child
- Any complications you might have experienced during birth or, if your child is adopted, documentation about your child’s biological family health and any complications experienced during birth
- The age at which your child reached his or her milestones
- Copies of testing done by doctors on your child’s development abilities
- Notes on your child’s behaviors and any test results done by teachers or other professionals
What to expect during the autism testing portion?
There are various assessments that will be administered during the testing portion. While a majority of the measures will be done with the child, some of these measures will be given to parents or even their teachers to fill out as a way to help the specialist gather a well-rounded snapshot of the child and his or her overall functioning.
More specifically, testing for autism will include:
- Cognitive measures of intelligence (verbal, non-verbal, fluid reasoning, and processing speed) and academic ability
- Structured assessment of social interaction
- Behavioral evaluation via checklists
- School observation for real world date regarding social interaction
Now that the autism evaluation is complete, what’s next?
Once an evaluation for autism spectrum concerns is complete, you will receive a comprehensive written report with personalized recommendations for your child. At that time, the specialist will go over the importance of each assessment conducted and their results. He or she will explain what the results mean and the best course of action to take with your child moving forward.
As stated, an accurate and early diagnosis of ASD can greatly help your child. More specifically, if your child is under 3 years old, he or she may be referred to an Early Intervention (EI) program. If your child is 3 years or older, he or she may be enrolled into the local school district’s special education serviced. If your child is between 3 and 5 years old, he or she may be eligible to attend a developmental preschool program for children in need of more support.
Learning your child is on the autism spectrum can be terrifying and may leave you with more questions than you had before your child was given a diagnosis. The process may seem intimidating at the start, but know you are not alone. We are here to help guide you through the next steps. Parents can find comfort in the knowledge of early detection and diagnosis of ASD.
In fact, previous research has found that detection and diagnosis of autism early in a child’s life has shown success in treatment and management of ASD. Early intensive behavioral intervention can help improve your child’s ability to learn, communicate, and engage in more appropriate social skills.
If you’d like to set up an appointment for an autism evaulation for your child, we’d like to help you. Please call Sheltering Oaks Counseling Center at 813-982-4230 and our staff will help you with your needs.
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Other Mental Health Services at Sheltering Oaks Counseling
Your family may need help in more than one way. At Sheltering Oaks Counseling, we want to meet the mental health needs of every member of your family. Therefore, we offer a number of mental health services at our Wesley Chapel, FL based therapy clinic. For example, our therapists offer Christian counseling, counseling for young adults, therapy for cancer survivors and trauma therapy. We also have marriage counseling, family therapy, play therapy, and counseling for ministers. Not only can we help you in our Tampa area counseling offices, but we can also work with you anywhere in the state with online therapy in Florida.
Additionally, we offer several types of testing services, including neuropsychological testing, ADHD testing, psychoeducational evaluation, Gifted testing, and more. Finally, our specialty services for veterans and parents as IEP advocates can help you too! We would love to connect when you are ready to reach out.