Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by ongoing challenges with social communication and interaction, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior. Diagnosing ASD
involves a comprehensive evaluation based on specific diagnostic criteria. Let’s take a deeper look at the diagnostic criteria and assessment methods for ASD.
As per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders – Fifth Edition
), in order to be diagnosed with ASD, an individual must experience difficulties in the following two areas.
- Persistent deficits in each of the following three areas of social communication and interaction
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity: Examples include abnormal social approach, failure of normal back-and-forth conversation, reduced sharing of interests or emotions, and a lack of initiation or response to social interactions.
- Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors: This can include difficulties with integrating verbal and nonverbal communication, unusual or odd eye contact and body language, deficits in understanding and using gestures, and a lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
- Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships: This area involves challenges with adjusting behavior based on the social context, difficulties with sharing, imaginative play, or making friends, and a general absence of interest in peers.
- Two (or more) of the following four types of restricted, repetitive behaviors
- Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech: These may include motor stereotypes, lining up toys, repeating words or phrases, and using idiosyncratic phrases in speech.
- Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of behavior: Some examples are significant distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, specific greeting rituals, and the need for sameness in daily routines.
- Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus: This can involve a strong attachment to unusual objects, preoccupation with specific topics, or excessively limited and/or repetitive interests.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessments
- Hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment: This can manifest as indifference to pain or temperature, intense reactions to sensory experiences, excessive smelling or touching of objects, or visual fascination with lights or movement.
Diagnosing ASD requires a comprehensive evaluation conducted by specialists experienced in diagnosing and treating ASD. Some common aspects of an ASD evaluation include:
- Clinical Observation/Interviews
- Third-Party Input (parents/caregivers, teachers, community supports, etc.)
- Review of Records (e.g., medical, academic, etc.)
- Standardised Tests
- Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – Second Edition (ADOS-2): Evaluates social interaction, communication, play, and imaginative use of materials in individuals suspected of having ASD.
- Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) – An assessment of ASD traits in children over 2 years.
- Social Responsiveness Scale – Second Edition (SRS-2): reports on an individual’s social awareness and motivation, communication skills, repetitive behaviours, and restricted interests.
Treatment Approaches for Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Miscellaneous screening tools – Examples include but are not limited to the Autism Spectrum Rating Scales (ASRS), Camouflaging Autistic Traits Questionnaire (CAT-Q), Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT)
Following the ASD testing process, an individualised evaluation which includes one’s background information, the examiner’s observations, the results of psychometric testing, and diagnostic impressions will be provided. If a diagnosis is received, recommendations on how to best support the individual’s learning, social skills, personal development, emotion regulation, and/or occupational success will be offered.
While there is no cure for ASD, early intervention and treatment can help improve symptoms and support a child’s development and learning. Treatment strategies are tailored to each individual’s needs and may consist of some of the following interventions:
- Behavior and communication therapies
- Educational therapies
- Parent/Family Training
- Additional Interventions such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy may be beneficial to address communication, activities of daily living, and movement-related challenges.
If you suspect that you or a loved one may be exhibiting symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, it may be worthwhile seeking guidance from a qualified professional. While ASD testing may seem overwhelming, the practitioner with whom you work will try to make the assessment process as stress-free as possible.
If the assessment process seems right for you, or if you would like more information about whether your symptoms might be attributable to ASD, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Laburnum Psychology team via email at email@example.com
or by phone (03) 9877 9179.