Autism series part I: Demystifying the Autism diagnosis
If you have had a child recently diagnosed with ASD, or have been an ASD parent for several years, we support you as parents and champion your cause. We understand the time, energy and patience required of you and you are not alone. This is the first of an eight part series dealing with Autism where we will explore everything from diagnosis to behavioral skills and ideas to help you and your child. Smarter Parenting is a GREAT resource with the unique mission and focus to show parents how to connect to, motivate, and teach their child…and the best part…it works! It may even help you better understand your child’s perception of the world, and will hopefully help decrease the difficult behavioral challenges you experience in your home.This section will section will cover the criteria for an Autism diagnosis.
Understanding the Criteria for Diagnosis
First, it’s important to understand that Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that manifests itself in unique ways that with every child. However, there are are very similar behavioral patterns among the children with the diagnosis. The ICD 10 categorizes these behavioral patterns into six criteria which makes the diagnosis for Autism fairly simple. The first two criteria must be present and the four additional criteria are listed but only two of them must be present for an autism diagnosis. Let’s take a look…
Every child diagnosed with autism must have:
Non-verbal communication problems
Examples include lack of eye contact and facial expression, unable to read social cues or body language, and not having an instinctive use of body language.
Reciprocal social interaction problems
Examples include the inability to have basic back and forth conversation, or not being able to respond to or build on other people’s statements or thoughts
These first two criteria are the same for everyone. In addition to the previous two criteria, your child must also exhibit 2 out of the following 4 criteria in order to be diagnosed with ASD.
Most young children struggle with some issues related to sensory whether they have autism or not, but they usually grow out of it as they are exposed to new sights, sounds and smells. This is different for children with autism, and they won’t necessarily “grow out of it”. Certain things like loud noises and bright lights may always trigger them.
Rigid and/or ritualistic behavior
This is also common for young children. However, for a child with ASD this behavior leads to dysfunction and the behavior can be completely irrational. For example, an ASD child might only eat Rainbow marshmallows in the Lucky Charms box one at a time, and only in a plastic spoon.
Stereotyped motor behavior or self-stimulation. This can be several different repetitive movements, but the most common stims are rocking, swinging, waving hands, or extreme finger movements. I’ve included several scholarly articles which describe how and why children choose to self-soothe through stimming, how to decrease stimming when needed and also the cognitive and developmental benefits of stimming. To access an article on strategies to decrease stimming behaviors click HERE. Click HERE to learn more about stimming behaviors. Click HERE for specific exercises you can try to help decrease specific stimming behaviors.
Excessive or odd interests
Sometimes this comes in the form of an obsessive collection such as small toys, rocks, cards or magazines. Other times it is a fascination with a certain topic that becomes obsessive. For example, a child’s thoughts, conversations and play time become dominated by topics such as volcanoes or hot air balloons.
Now that you’re educated on the diagnostic criteria it does not qualify you to diagnose the neighbor’s children, even though you may want to…
Diagnosis requires a qualified professional and sometimes a team
The diagnostic process for Autism is complicated and requires a professional interview, testing, observation and a personalized history of developmental milestones. It is recommended that the diagnosis for Autism is conducted by a team, usually led by a qualified physician and may include a treatment team consisting of a child psychologist, speech pathologist, and an occupational therapist. Genetic testing may also be recommended. The treatment team will likely suggest interviews with parents, evaluations, observation and a history of developmental milestones.
We encourage parents to be proactive and if you recognize signs or have questions, take your child to a physician who is qualified to examine your child for early signs of Autism. Going to the wrong physician may delay your opportunity for early intervention. You can find additional resources on how to secure a qualified physician from the National Autism Association.
What does the diagnosis help me understand?
Now that you know where the diagnosis comes from, what should you do now? Well, hopefully nothing drastic. But moving forward, we hope this information helps you better understand why your child responds to the world differently. With an understanding of these six symptoms, this website can be a guide and a resource of how to shape and manage these behavioral symptoms. We have modified the Teaching Family Model approach and associated social skill steps to better fit your child’s specific challenges. The Smarter Parenting team has worked with families and individuals across the spectrum. Here is a short excerpt we received from a very grateful mother recently.
My family had such a positive experience with the skills that we were taught and used on my child. C was a very hard four year old that had no impulse control and a behavior that was all over the place on top of his diagnosis. I thought nothing could work to make our everyday life run smoother. But I was wrong. The different tools that we learned to use on a daily basis from preventive and corrective teaching to staying calm have helped my family in our everyday struggles. I will be forever grateful for the tools that I have learned here. -Thank you
Coming soon you will find letters from parents of children with Autism, information on vestibular and proprioceptive senses, updates from the autism community, as well as creative ways to help manage your child’s behavior through fun, child centered daily charts, schedules, and token economy systems.
Next week, read Autism series part II: What to expect after an official ASD diagnosis which provides great advice and suggestions from other ASD parents as well as answers to several frequently asked questions.
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Jesse Heaton is a Mental Health Therapist who has worked with children and families for the last 12 years. Jesse has worked in several different treatment settings including detention programs, treatment homes, recovery centers and an Autism Spectrum long-term care facility. Jesse is a parent of three children and a member of the Smarter Parenting team.