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 have been 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.

The Pathways to Diagnosis

Interdisciplinary Autism Assessments

For individuals on the autism spectrum, a diagnosis from a medical professional is necessary in order to qualify for medical services. One main difference in the assessment is in how the child is evaluated and whether the evaluation is done by an individual or a team.

Interdisciplinary Autism Assessments at ACN

At ACN, we conduct interdisciplinary autism assessments where a number of specialists participate in the evaluation and all of them are present at the same time from start to end.

The team consists of a developmental pediatrician or psychologist, a behavior analyst, a speech-language pathologist, and an occupational therapist. We believe that a comprehensive evaluation gives parents a clearer sense of the skills and deficits in their child and a clearer direction for seeking therapies.

The following is an illustration of the pathway to a diagnosis at ACN:

5 Focuses For Creating the Learning Environment in the Home

Continued learning experiences after school

When it comes to setting the stage for learning, individuals on the autism spectrum need to continue their learning experiences even after school. This requires therapists, caregivers and parents to be responsible for creating a learning environment in the home that continues to provide opportunity to expand the vital skills a child is working on. This includes setting up a home environment, understanding your child’s classroom setup, or making suggestions at their after school program.

Child playing at home

Here are five goals to focus on when evaluating a school-related learning environment in the home for children with Aspergers or HFA.

Overcoming Denial to Participate in Joy with Your Child

Denial Never Wins by Jessica Nieminski

It’s not easy to hear that your child is going to struggle in certain ways. The fear of the future can be downright paralyzing and while all children are perfect in their own way, it’s not what you dream up when you first think about having a child.

Denial

Nobody fanaticizes about therapists and sensory breaks. Instead you think about nursery bedding and buying cute tiny little shoes that your baby will truly never leave on. Having gone through a diagnosis process twice with my amazing and extraordinary loves, this is my best advice: “Denial Never Wins!”

Okay so let me explain, but first I need do a little storytelling. Stay with me, because I promise that this is going somewhere. The other day I was in the kitchen, all in my mom zone doing mom things, when my little cutie ran over to get me to do what he was doing. Not only did he run over, but he also invited me to join!

Asperger’s and Intense Interests

Autistically Speaking with Sam Allen

You are probably familiar with the idea of intense interests. Whether it be weather or automobiles, your child with high-functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome has had an intense interest in some kind of subject. This behavior is natural because I too have had and still have intense interests in certain things.

Sam building a computer For example, when I was young, I was fascinated by trains. My parents would take me to train museums, and you’d have my full attention if you mentioned anything about trains. Then the interest shifted to tornadoes. I had a couple of VHS tapes about tornadoes and I would watch them repeatedly.

My interest then shifted to airplanes. I had Flight Simulator 2004 and Flight Simulator X. In fact, I would love to hear flight stories from my grandfather because he used to be a Cessna pilot years ago.

Currently, my interest is Mechanical Engineering. I took an advanced engineering class during high school, and I was given an award for that class that is only given to one person in the class. I was lucky to be picked for the honor.

It’s normal for your child’s interest to shift as time goes on. If they like trains like I did, then take them to a train museum or a train station. If they like automobiles, take them to a car show. Let them get involved with whatever their interests are!

By Sam Allen

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

Aspergers Syndrome: The Challenge of Reading Facial Expressions

“Social Expectations: The inability to read facial expressions

For neuro-typicals, reading facial expressions comes easy but for those on the spectrum, medically, this is near impossible due to the mis-wiring (firing) in the frontal lobe of the brain.  Solutions and tools, such as observational learning, are offered in this edition of Top of the Spectrum News.

T-Chart

A T-Chart can be made by placing a line down the middle of a page and labeling the left and right side of the page according to acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The T-Chart is then used to clarify acceptable or desired behaviors versus unacceptable or undesired behaviors by listing those under each of the categories.

Empty Library With Arranged Tables And Chairs

I was visiting with a teacher about one of his high school students that was wreaking havoc with her profanity. They had many conversations with her and had a tried several other strategies, but the profanity continued to spew. I offered this as a possible strategy and the teacher immediately told me that she knows she is not supposed to say those words, but she just doesn’t care about that. He was trying to tell me that writing good words on one side of the T-chart and bad words on the other side was just too simple.

Conversation with Tony Attwood and Eustacia Cutler

Are you ready for a treat? How about Eustcia Cutler (The amazing mother of Dr. Temple Grandin) interviewing Dr. Tony Attwood (premiere Psychologist specializing in Asperger Syndrome) discussing all things High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers! Though you will have just a couple of short steps to access the free interview…it’s well worth it as you receive over 2 hours of knowledge back and forth from these two leaders in the field of Autism today.

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Overview: Eustacia Cutler offers a series of webinars free to anyone wanting to gain knowledge on raising a child on the Autism Spectrum. She titles her interviews…Conversations with Eustacia Cutler and believe me, if there is anyone who know about successfully raising a child against all odds….it is Ms. Cutler. We share a link to the interview below as well as to her website here:  Temple Grandin Eustacia Cutler Autism Fund.

Eustacia’s Guest: Tony Attwood is well known for sharing his knowledge of Aspergers Syndrome. He has an Honors degree in Psychology from the University of Hull, Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Surrey and a PhD from the University of London. He is currently adjunct Associate Professor at Griffith University in Queensland.

Listen to the conversation here:

Conversation with Tony Attwood and Eustacia Cutler

A Quote Worth Contemplating…

When asked about living with Autism, without prompt nor expectation of any kind, this quote came from our son Sam during an interview for the documentary “Coping to Excelling”. 

“Don’t worry about the impairments that God included in this package….think about the good stuff in the package God gave you.”                                                                                                               -Sam Allen July 2011

These are Sam’s words of advice to anyone living with an impairment, disability or challenge of any kind. His words, though brief, are quite powerful for someone in their mid-teens. I share this because as a person of faith, this is a good way of thinking…maybe for us all.