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According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), every child should be screened for autism during regular visits to a pediatrician. Through regular testing, a child with autism can be identified in the early years. There are a number of developmental screening tools, such as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) and the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, that help to evaluate a child’s behavior.
If autism is diagnosed at an early stage and effective intervention is implemented, the child will be able to develop to his or her maximum potential. If a developmental disorder or delay is observed in a child, more tests will be conducted to confirm that the symptoms are due to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and not any other medical condition similar to autism, such as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or language delays. If the child’s doctor is not specifically trained or experience in developmental disorders, the doctor will refer the child to a specialist, for example, a speech therapist or child psychiatrist.
There are many types of strategies and questionnaires that will help a doctor to identify the particular kind of developmental delay a child is experiencing. These include:
● Medical History
The parents are interviewed to establish the child’s medical history. Parents are asked about the child’s development, such as gesturing abilities, speech skills, and so forth. For instance, a small child with ASD may be capable of pointing at things he or she wants; however, the child probably will not make sure that the parent is also looking at that thing to which they are pointing.
● Autism Diagnostic Guidelines
Autism diagnostic guidelines have been established by the American Association of Childhood and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Doctors use the guidelines to assess behaviors that are associated with various conditions in the autism spectrum. The guidelines are designed for children who are age three years and older.
●Other Behavioral Questionnaires
Besides the diagnostic guidelines of the AACAP, there are numerous other diagnostic questionnaires that focus on the behavior of children below the age of three.
● Clinical Observations
A child who has developmental delays is observed by the doctor in different settings. The doctor will ask the parents if some behaviors of the child are common in those situations.
● Developmental and Intelligence Tests
The AACAP also recommends tests that determine if the child’s thinking and decision-making abilities are affected by developmental delays.
Physical Examinations and Lab Tests
These tests are performed to find out if there is a physical ailment that may be causing the symptoms in a child. The tests are as follows:
● Physical Examination
The child’s height, weight, and head circumference are measured to examine if the growth pattern in the child is normal.
● Auditory Tests
Auditory function tests determine whether hearing disabilities are causing delays in the development of the child’s social and language skills.
● Lead Poisoning Tests
Pica is a condition in which a child may crave non-edible substances such as dirt. A child with developmental delays may continue eating and putting non-edible things in his or her mouth even when this phase is over in children with normal development. This can lead to lead poisoning, which affects brain development.
● Chromosomal Analysis
Some types of mental retardation are caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the family, such as Fragile X Syndrome, which causes behaviors similar to autism. An examination of a child’s chromosomes for certain markers can eliminate various hereditary conditions.
● Electroencephalograph (EEG)
If a child experiences seizures or shows symptoms of developmental regression, an EEG test is warranted.
● Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
An MRI may be performed to examine the physical structures of the brain for abnormalities or damage.
Chris Plouche' Johnson, MD, MEd and Scott M. Myers, MD. (2007). "Identification and Evaluation of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders". Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
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