It would be so much easier if autism spectrum disorer (ASD) could be diagnosed with a blood test or an x-ray, but it's not that simple. Diagnosis is ultimately made based on your description of your child's development, plus careful observations of certain behaviors by autism experts, medical tests, and your child's history.
Parent and Pediatrician Partnership
Early diagnosis requires a partnership between parents and pediatricians. Within this partnership you, as the parent, should feel comfortable bringing up any concerns you have about your child's behavior or development—the way she plays, learns, speaks, and acts. Likewise, your child's pediatrician's role in the partnership is to listen and act on your concerns.
During your child's visits, the pediatrician may ask specific questions or complete a questionnaire about your child's development. Pediatricians take these steps because they understand the value of early diagnosis and intervention and know where to refer you if concerns are identified. The importance of this partnership cannot be stressed enough.
ASD Screening for All Children
If your child does have autism, an early diagnosis is better because then your child can start receiving the help he or she needs. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children be screening for ASD at their 18- and 24-month well-child checkups. Talk with your doctor if you feel your child needs to be screened (regardless of their age) and share your concerns — you know your child the best!
It can be difficult to learn that your child has a lifelong developmental disability. Naturally, you as a parent, other caregivers, and extended family need to grieve about this. You will undoubtedly worry about what the future holds. Keep in mind during these difficult times that most children with ASD will make significant progress in overall function. Some children with ASD can do exceptionally well and may even remain in a regular education classroom. Many will have meaningful relationships with family and peers and achieve a good level of independence as adults.
It is important to remember that while a diagnosis of autism may change what you thought your parenting experience would be, we now know that children with ASD can achieve so much more in life as long as they are given appropriate support and opportunities. See Words of Support for Parents of a Child with Autism.