What exactly is...
AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism spectrum disorder is closely associated with the nervous system. The range and severity of symptoms can vary widely. Common symptoms include difficulty with communication, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive interests, and repetitive behaviors. Some great news: early recognition, as well as behavioral, educational, and family therapies may reduce symptoms and support development and learning. Either way, we've not only assessed many kiddos for Autism, but also work with them via therapy, so we're extremely familiar with the diagnosis, including it's strengths!
Our testing for Autism is similar to our testing for ADHD, but there are some differences. We use four testing approaches to our autism evaluations.
ON THE OTHER HAND: Our doctors test four points of data, to get the best (and most accurate) results.
Here is what is included in OUR testing for ASD:
1. CLINICAL INTAKE and observations are geared toward assessing certain behaviors. We pay close attention to eye contact, topic fixation, etc. While we don't spend as much time testing as with ADHD, we still spread it out over at least two days, to allow for plenty of observation time. School observation is particularly useful in evaluating autism; unfortunately, insurance will generally not cover this cost. However, it can be arranged at the parents' request.
2. RATING SCALES are similar to those used for ADHD, however, autism rating scales generally take a bit longer. Why? First, because we use the same rating scales for ADHD, but we add several additional measures that look at important aspects of autism: social pragmatics, communication tendencies, sensory issues, etc. We also want to make sure we're getting data from parents, caregivers, and teachers.
3. NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING is similar to ADHD, in that we use the same well-known tests like the Wechsler, the Delis-Kaplan, the NEPSY, etc. A distinction lies in in which subtests become most meaningful. For example, we pay close attention to tests that measure affect recognition, and theory of mind, judgement, and "perspective taking." Sometimes, testing for Autism can take a bit longer than ADHD, because the specifics of the disorder are harder to zero in on.
4. PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING is the same for ADHD and autism. The reasons are the same: we want to make sure there are not emotional symptoms distorting the behaviors that parents and teachers see. There is no such thing as an "easy autism evaluation." Every evaluation we perform is complicated by other symptoms which may be a result of autism, or may be totally separate.
A diagnosis of autism is more than being shy. It is more than being odd or awkward. It is more than having sensory issues. There are diagnoses that may better capture these tendencies, like a sensory processing disorder, social anxiety, etc. Autism is a persistent deficit in social communication/interaction, and it is one that will be seen across multiple contexts.
Further, it starts at a very early age in development; not in late childhood or teenage years (though could have just become noticeable, but not likely). Autism also includes restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. A diagnosis requires that these deficits are so much so, that supports are needed for the patient to function. After our full evaluation, we can discuss some of our recommendations.
Please watch the video below, produced by Amazing Things Happen.
To learn more about adult autism, we highly recommend the film, Temple Grandin, which is available on Amazon Prime and as a DVD through Netflix. This true story follows Temple from childhood (before she received any formal diagnosis of Autism) up to adulthood. Temple went on to earn a doctoral degree, and is currently a highly regarded professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University. She is widely considered an expert on the humane treatment of livestock--an expertise that she developed due to her experience as a child with Autism.
Dr. Grandin remains a down-to-earth advocate for understanding what Autism really is...
... and really isn't.