The formal diagnosis of autism should always be made by a competent medical practitioner, preferably with a second opinion. While the first practitioner’s opinion may be correct, the second, preferably a psychiatrist, should help identify the individual’s place on the spectrum.
Early diagnosis is important. It can provide for proper treatment, education and long-term care. With a proper diagnosis, a comprehensive education plan can be created, along with plans for medical care, long-term care and financial stability after parents are gone.
Initial observation of autism is very likely to be made by grandparents, aunts or uncles or teachers. Parents are often too closely connected with a child to observe peculiarities of behavior that may indicate the presence of autism. Such observations must not be dismissed by parents, and the child checked as soon as possible. Testing is painless and harmless, and may involve an MRI or psychological testing.
Brief observation cannot, however, present the true picture of the child or person’s abilities, limitations or needs. Other conditions or syndromes may create confusion in initial observation. For example, sensory processing disorder, can present symptoms that are confusingly similar to autism’s.
There are significant differences between initial identification or observation of autism by relatives, educators and even primary care physicians and a comprehensive diagnosis. It’s important to recognize the fundamental difference and to obtain a complete and proper diagnosis. For example, the degree of autistic behavioral issues will depend on the person’s place in the spectrum. If fully functional, care is minimal, but if testing shows the possibility of violent or abnormal behavior, more specific care will be warranted.
A medical diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder based on an assessment of symptoms and diagnostic tests, for instance, is most frequently made by a physician according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5, released 2013) of the American Psychological Association. This guides physicians in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder according to a specific range of symptoms.