How Is Autism Diagnosed? (Part One)

So, how is Autism diagnosed?

Psychological therapy

Until recently, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including Aspergers Syndrome, have been understood as a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders—characterized by social impairments, difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

Changes in definition have been proposed and accepted by different organizations and groups in the United States and other parts of the world. The changes will be discussed in other posts; meanwhile, I will address how autism is diagnosed.

At the present time, a single test to diagnose autism does not exist. We do know that a biological or single genetic marker has not been identified, thus, autism cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or imaging studies. It is rather a diagnosis that is primarily identified by behavioral and developmental differences.

Yoga: great for the mind!

Easing the mind and relaxing the body, Yoga as a practice for ADHD

Attention deficiency can become a barrier for many things to many people. Children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome often times are also diagnosed with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity disorder and may have a hard time concentrating in class, have a hard time sitting still during dinner, or may lack consistency. Adults diagnosed with ADHD may struggle with organization at work or home. ADHD is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often persists into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Besides proper medication, practicing Yoga can be another support to help ease the mind and relax the body.

Silhouette of a beautiful yoga woman at sunset (in surreal colors)

Yoga is an ancient art based on a harmonizing system of development for the body, mind, and spirit. Practicing yoga can help in slowing down the mind, relaxing the body, and becoming aware with your immediate present. In other words, for someone whose mind is racing, has a difficult time concentrating, and has extra energy, yoga can be a good support to help in reducing these emotions. The question is how do I even begin doing yoga? Well, get ready because here are your first 3 steps into beginning your journey to calmness and relaxation!

A Parent’s Perspective

1455977_10200795465710973_510450068_n03a85a733c36Many times in our lives, we come upon a fork in the road. One choice leads you down a certain path and the other choice leads you down a very different road. Finding out your child has Autism is complex enough, but eventually we all come to a similar fork in the road. Do I choose my child, or do I choose to please the surrounding neurotypicals. . .those judgmental people around me?

It sounds simplistic but we realized almost immediately after the diagnosis that you can be judged, alienated, and sometimes even rejected by your peers and perhaps even family. It hurts because you know your child cannot help the ‘tantrums’ when the baby in the grocery store won’t stop screaming, or that your child’s complete lack of athletic skills will never match the soccer mom’s expectation of a friendly neighborhood soccer game. So eventually you and your child are excluded.

When these and many other similar situations would continue to arise I realized my son would always elicit these looks from unforgiving people, because his Autism was not going away. So, we chose our child. As soon as our family as a unit took that path everything became easier! I no longer worry about other’s lack of knowledge when it comes to sensory issues or brain function. We as a family could have our own fun. Quirky doesn’t bother me anymore, in fact it’s almost cool, and definitely a relief.

Together our family is a strong unit accepting and excelling in our son’s unique interests. Our family weekends are no longer with people that make for awkward or unforgiving situations, but we welcome anyone who would like to be with us, just as we are! Now, many years later, the same families who alienated us for the differences have surprisingly praised our strong family unit, “hiccups” and all!

By Jennifer Allen

How to Expand A Picky Eater’s Diet

Food Chaining

Since feeding involves all sensory systems (sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste), eating is the most difficult sensory task that children face. Feeding issues are especially common in children with autism, including those with Aspergers, because of difficulties with sensory processing. In many cases, this leads to eating challenges at mealtimes.

Little girl eating

“Food chaining,” from the book by the same name, is based on the child’s natural preferences and successful eating experiences—specifically the idea that we eat what we like. Food chaining introduces new foods that have the same flavors or sensory features as foods that are already preferred by the child, increasing the likelihood that the child will like the food.

Implementing the Feelings Chart

Now that you have created a very personalized feelings chart for a person with Asperger’s, it is time to implement the strategy so that it is effective in both preventing the escalation of problem behaviors, and deescalating a situation once it has occurred.

A key feature to this, and almost any other strategy, is to teach and review it when the individual is calm and there is no problem at the moment.  These conditions help to ensure that the brain is at its best, most rational thinking, and that the strategy is not associated with a negative or difficult situation.

The start of the day is usually a good time to use the feelings chart as the person checks in to the school routine.  Unless there has been a morning problem at home or on the bus, this is usually a time where there is a clean slate from which to build.  Depending on the grade level, the feelings chart may be posted as a large visual guide of feelings, or as a personal tool in a notebook, or both.  The calming activities may be reviewed along with some role-playing.  By using the feelings chart first thing in the morning, the teacher can assess where the students are in their feelings and respond accordingly.  Responses may include celebrating and reinforcing positive feelings, and offering support to those who indicate a problem is developing.  If there is a problem, then help the student refer to the predetermined calming activities and identify which holds the most promise for resolving the situation.

Interests can serve as calming mechanisms for the brain with Aspergers

Throughout the day look for opportunities to use the feelings chart to check-in, and prevent possible difficulties.  My experience has been that on a scale of 1-5 [with 1 being very calm and happy], once a student has escalated to a 4 or a 5, it becomes much more difficult to deescalate.  Therefore, it is critical to intervene when students are at a 3 in order to increase the likelihood that they will be able to calm down.

The feelings chart may also be used to debrief the day at the end of school.  The chart may facilitate a conversation about what worked, what did not and how to make a better plan for the next day.  And remember to refer to the feelings chart when the student is calm and happy.  The more we celebrate those moments, the more we focus on good times and positive energy.

By Lisa Rogers

Email your questions to Lisa, our education expert at

Learning Social Techniques

Q: Could you go in to detail more on other types of relationships – friends, coworkers, acquaintances, etc that you have had? Do you have a specific example of a misstep, or situation that you were able to handle because of something you had been taught?

A: Years ago, I was asked to help lead songs for a College-age Bible study (I was 30). Eventually, some of the females in the group went to the leader and told him they were uncomfortable with the way I looked at them, and I was asked not to come back. I was in complete shock, and kept trying to figure out where I went wrong.

A little over a year later, I overheard a co-worker make a similar complaint about me (she was on her phone and didn’t realize how loud she was). It was then that I realized I did indeed have a problem with staring, and didn’t even know when I was doing it.

I worked with a counselor who taught me techniques on giving people space, and how to give people a break from my eye contact. He taught me things about body language I had never thought of before that, and I put these things into practice in subsequent social situations.

I learned to closely monitor how long I looked at someone, and how much personal space I was giving them. These things were extremely beneficial to my interaction with others, and I’m sure made others more comfortable around me.

There’s no comparison

I used to compare myself to everyone around me, and they always came out better.

Is the Grass Really Greener?

By Ken Kellam

Child just Diagnosed with Aspergers?

I’m Here to Say it’ll be Alright.

11012954_10204462766751207_2317137543922936014_nI’m pretty sure those of you who have discovered that your child has high-functioning autism went into some kind of state of shock when you found out about the diagnosis. My own mother felt the room spinning when they suggested the possibility of me having high-functioning autism.

But, at the same time, she also experienced a feeling of relief for finally having a diagnosis that explained the foreign behaviors.

It’s okay to feel shocked when the diagnosis comes in. It can be a lot to take in, but I can assure you that there is nothing to worry about. In fact, I’d consider the diagnosis to be a stepping stone towards a journey.

Now, some of you may be worried after getting the diagnosis that your child may not be able to drive, or to find a romantic love interest. Take a look at me; I have Aspergers and I’m driving to and from college every Monday through Thursday with no hitch, and I’ve even had some girlfriends in recent times.

Of course, there are going to be rough patches throughout the journey, but that’s what makes the journey all the more interesting. Because, let’s face it, normal is boring.

In conclusion, there’s no need to treat the diagnosis as a lethal disease, and I see no reason for the child not to know about their high-functioning autism. Take the time to explain what it is, and make sure they understand that high-functioning autism is far from anything even close to a disease.

By Samuel Allen

Finding the ABILITY in Asperger’s

Many say that Asperger’s isn’t a disability, it’s a different ability and I completely agree. We all know that children and adults with Asperger’s bring so many unique gifts to the table.

Child with balloons

With that said, it is important as a parent that you understand and truly believe that statement. You need to take that thought and hold onto it because as a parent trying to help your child navigate this world, it isn’t always going to feel that way.

The Autistic Mind: Different in Function and Anatomy

“The Autistic Mind: Different in Function and Anatomy”

Understanding the function of the Autistic Brain may help you understand, or explain, the different behaviors exhibited by someone with Aspergers Syndrome. This episode of Top of the Spectrum News features doctors revealing studies that prove the importance of therapy. They explain that the Autistic brain is different in both function and anatomy from a neuro-typical brain. In other words. . . it’s not bad behavior! Aspies are coming from a place of being neurologically different.