Do you suspect that your student, your child, or someone else you know may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder? When we learn some of the behaviours associated with an ASD, it is not uncommon for us to wonder about whether similar behaviours we see in those we know may indicate that they have an ASD. And, in fact, ASD is diagnosed based on a collection of behavioural symptoms. Blood tests or brain scans currently cannot determine the presence or absence of an ASD. But, we are fortunate in British Columbia, as the Ministry of Health has created specific guidelines for the diagnosis of ASD based on the latest tools and research, making diagnosis more consistent and accurate than ever before. Individuals qualified to diagnose ASD are available in centres across the province.
So, what should you do if you suspect an ASD? Consider the following as you ponder what action to take:
if you suspect your child may have an ASD:
- Familiarize yourself with some of the “red flags” of ASD. A great resource which includes video of typically developing children contrasted with those who have been diagnosed with ASD is available at Red Flags. Read the list of ”red flags” and then click on the link to the Video Glossary. This information may reassure you that your child is generally doing well or may confirm that you are right to be concerned.
- Write down your concerns and make an appointment with your doctor. Since early intervention has been determined to be the most effective way of improving outcomes for those with an ASD, it is best to go sooner rather than taking a “wait and see” approach.
- Expect that your doctor will take your concerns seriously and make appropriate referrals. The doctor may refer you to a paediatrician or may refer to other disciplines for further assessment (e.g,. a speech/language pathologist) before recommending an assessment by a qualified ASD diagnostic team.
- If your child is older (i.e,. 4 – 5 years old or more) his/her symptoms may be more subtle. If the behavioural differences you notice are persistent and are negatively affecting your family life or your child’s learning or socialization, take your concerns forward to your physician. If your child attends a daycare or preschool, ask the daycare provider or teacher questions about your child’s ability to socialize with peers and provide your physician with this information.
- Always remember that there is a range of what is “normal” developmentally, and that there may be reasons other than an ASD for any behavioural differences you may see. A referral for an ASD assessment does not necessarily mean your child has an ASD but can be the first step in getting any help he or she may need.
If you suspect a close friend or a relative may have a child with an ASD:
- Be careful what advice you offer, particularly if it is unsolicited. Remember that ASD is a complex disorder and even trained professionals can sometimes disagree on a diagnosis.
- If you have concerns about the child’s behaviours or developmental milestones and are asked for advice or support, it is best to direct your friend or relative to the professionals that are in a position to assist and assess… i.e,. doctors, occupational therapists, speech/language pathologists or behaviour specialists.
- Generally, it is just as inadvisable to dismiss a parent’s concerns (e.g., “Don’t worry… there’s nothing wrong.”) as it to tell the parent you think his or her child has autism. To be safe, refer to those who can objectively confirm or refute the concerns (i.e., qualified professionals).
If you are a teacher and think a student in your class shows symptoms of an ASD:
- Document social, behavioural and communication differences that concern you.
- Discuss concerns with the parent(s) and recommend further evaluation by members of the school based team i.e., learning assistance teacher, speech/language pathologist, and school psychologist. It is not considered appropriate for a teacher to suggest a possible diagnosis of ASD to a parent at this stage, although the teacher’s observations are important for diagnostic specialists to consider as part of a multi-disciplinary assessment.
what to do?
Ultimately, it is a parent’s decision, in consultation with the physician, whether or not to pursue a referral for a formal assessment by ASD diagnostic specialists. In the meantime, whatever the child’s differences, consistent, structured and supportive environments are considered best practice for supporting all children with learning challenges.
for more information:
For more information on the diagnosis of ASD, please refer to the following elearning lessons on our website:
The Psychological Assessment by Michelle Pozin.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Parts 1 – 3 by Zuhra Teja.