By the age of three, most children with ASD will have begun to display symptoms, a fact that makes early detection so very critical. And, of course, evaluation must precede detection. As a rule, this process of diagnosis falls into two successive stages:
developmental screening and comprehensive diagnostic evaluation. This process will reveal other intellectual development as well.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends ASD screenings for all children at the young, young ages of nine, eighteen, and twenty-four months, all in the belief that a reliable ASD diagnosis can usually be made by age two. Should there be evidence of risk for ASD — with children, for example, whose family members have already been diagnosed or with children who have displayed ASD-related behaviors at an early date — then, even more testing becomes advisable.
During the first stage of investigation, developmental screening, doctors are looking for signs and symptoms, criteria that could lead to a diagnosis of ASD:
obvious inabilities in communication and social interaction,
a restriction of interest to a single or a very few objects, a certain kind of toy perhaps, or a particular book, and
repetitive behaviors, highly repetitive, over and over and over again.
Certain symptoms of ASD may be time-sensitive; that is, the difficulty will typically appear by a specific age. Skills in speech and language are often delayed in children with ASD. These children will not respond even to their own names after their first birthday. Parents should also be aware of other tell-tale signs — a refusal or an inability to acknowledge moving objects after fourteen months; in this case, the little ones will not look at or point to things in motion. After eighteen months, children with ASD will have little interest in playing games involving pretending. At this age there might begin prolonged repetition of words or phrases. The babies may very well avoid eye contact. They may rock back and forth incessantly or wave their hands as if compelled to do so. In a broader context, parents should watch for the child’s response to sensory stimuli, an unusual or exaggerated reaction might well mean ASD.
Generically, children with ASD will almost always manifest one or two or more of the following indicators:
– a very short attention span
– aggression, including frequent tantrums,
– a tendency toward self-injuring
– to harming oneself somehow
– abnormal patterns of eating and sleeping