Autism Awareness Emphasizes Early Diagnosis by Recognizing Symptoms

Each year since the 1970s, National Autism Awareness Month in April has focused attention on the complex subject of autism and autism spectrum disorder. World Autism Awareness Day, celebrated April 2 annually since 2008, seeks to underscore global concerns about early diagnosis and intervention.

Although the cause of autism still remains vague, medical professionals agree that symptoms of autism typically occur before age 3. According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), a reference published by the American Psychiatric Association, a person can be diagnosed with autism if he or she has at least six of twelve symptoms.

Symptoms are broken down into three different categories: social interaction, communication, and behavior. In order to be diagnosed with autism, a child must exhibit at least two symptoms from the social interaction category, and at least one symptom in each of the communication and behavior categories.

Social interaction symptoms of autism are

  • Marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors

  • Failure to develop age-appropriate peer relationships

  • Lack of spontaneous seeking to share interests and achievements with others

  • Lack of social or emotional reciprocity

Communication-related symptoms are

  • Delay in or lack of spoken language development (with no compensation through alternative modes of communication) in verbal persons

  • Marked impairment in conversational skills

  • Stereotyped and repetitive use of language

  • Lack of spontaneous age-appropriate make-believe or social-imitative play

Behavior-focused symptoms are

  • Preoccupation with at least one stereotyped and restricted pattern of interest to an abnormal degree

  • Inflexible adherence to nonfunctional routines or rituals

  • Repetitive motor mannerisms and preoccupation with parts of objects

  • Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

Significant changes in classification of symptoms and diagnostic criteria are expected in the next edition of the DSM, which is scheduled for release in May 2013. Sensory issues are expected to become a part of the diagnostic criteria in the updated DSM.

Those who exhibit most of these symptoms are likely to be diagnosed as autistic. Others who display only some of these symptoms may be deemed developmentally disabled. The autism spectrum also includes Asperger Syndrome; researchers are still determining what developmental issues fall within the disorder.

If your child is diagnosed with autism, it's important to have him evaluated by more than one doctor. The next step is to enroll him in an effective educational/behavioral program to ensure proper treatment and understanding of the diagnosis. Most states cover the costs of early intervention programs, and the laws and available funding for autism are always transforming due to research and knowledge.

The National Autism Center provides information and insight of interest and value to anyone wanting to know more about autism spectrum disorders.

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