Assessing Autism Spectrum Disorders: Guidelines for Parents and Educators
The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)presents a maze of questions that can be perplexing for parents and educators. When is the righttime to seek an assessment? Who should conduct the asesment? What should be included in the assessment? This article wil provide guidelines to help parents and educators to navigate this maze .
When is the Right Time to Seek an Assessment?
The importance of early identification and treatment of ASDs has been well established. Parents and educators should seek assessment as soon as signs become evident. Early symptoms of ASDs may be apparent by the age of 12 months to 18 months or sooner. While diagnosis often is possible by the age of two (Lord & Spence, 2006), most children are not identified until years later. Indeed, there typically is a delay of two to three years after symptoms first become apparent (Filipek, et al., 2000). Because early intervention makes a critical difference in the progress of people with ASDs, delay in identification is a matter of great concern.
Many factors, including symptom severity, race, gender and attitudes toward diagnosis, contribute to the delay in identification. Children with more severe communication deficits tend to be diagnosed at younger ages than those with primarily pragmatic language (social language) challenges. As a result, the average age of diagnosis of autism is four to five years earlier than Asperger’s disorder. Special awareness of the relationships between race and gender also is needed with early identification. Research has found that African-American children are identified later and receive alternative diagnoses prior to being identified with an ASD (Mandell, Ittenbach, Levy, & Pinto-Martin, 2006). Further, it is well established that girls are diagnosed at a later age than boys. Finally, evaluators sometimes hesitate to assign a diagnosis for fear of the impact of the label or misdiagnosis. Likewise, parents may hesitate to accept the diagnosis for the same reasons. Given the benefits of early intervention, the risks associated with delayed identification carry serious consequences.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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