Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong condition characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication. The prevalence rate has increased over the last decade, affecting nearly 1% of children worldwide. Many parents struggle to identify whether their child has ASD or not.
There are several online screening tools available to assess symptoms of ASD. These include the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), and Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS).
While these tools are useful, they don’t always provide reliable information. This is because the questions asked aren’t designed to diagnose ASD. Instead, they measure specific behaviors associated with ASD.
The SCQ was developed in 1997 as an alternative to the ADOS. It consists of 40 items that can be answered using a five-point Likert scale. The test takes about 15 minutes to complete. A score of 16 or above indicates a high risk for ASD. A score of 13 or below suggests low risk. However, it should be noted that this tool doesn’t distinguish between different types of ASD.
The ADOS is used to evaluate the severity of ASD. It consists of three modules: Module 1 – Reciprocal Social Interaction; Module 2 – Nonverbal Behaviors; and Module 3 – Language. Each module lasts approximately 30–45 minutes. A total score of 10 or more on any one of the modules indicates a diagnosis of ASD. A score of 6 or less suggests no signs of ASD.
The CARS is another popular screening tool. It measures four areas of behavior: social interaction, play, imitation, and response to visual stimuli. It takes around 20 minutes to complete. A score of 25 or higher suggests a strong likelihood of having ASD. A score of 18 or lower suggests a very low probability of having ASD.
These tools are helpful when identifying ASD in young children. But what if you have an older child who isn’t verbal? Or maybe your child hasn’t started talking yet? What do you do next? In such cases, there are other ways to screen for ASD. One option is to ask your doctor to refer you to an experienced clinician. They will conduct a full evaluation, which may involve observation, interviews, and questionnaires.
Another option is to use an online screening tool. There are many websites that offer free assessments. Some of them require users to answer a series of questions. Others allow users to upload photos and videos.
For example, the University of California at San Diego Center for Autism Research and Treatment offers a free online assessment called “Autism Spectrum Quotient.” Users simply need to access the website, fill out some basic personal details, and then answer 50 questions. The results are displayed within seconds.
If you want further information, you can contact the center directly. You might also consider asking your child’s pediatrician for advice, and they may recommend a professional diagnostic assessment. If you decide to go ahead with an online screening tool, make sure you choose one that has been validated by reputable sources.
There are two main reasons why online screening tools aren’t always reliable. First, they were not created to diagnose ASD, and they rely heavily on subjective judgment. This means that the answers provided by the user are influenced by their own opinions. For instance, someone with a negative attitude towards people with disabilities may provide inaccurate responses.
Second, these tools don’t take into account all aspects of ASD. For example, they don’t measure how well a person understands others’ emotions, nor do they assess whether a person can read facial expressions. This makes it difficult to accurately identify individuals with ASD through online tests. In fact, studies show that only about half of parents believe online screening tools are effective.
So before using an online test, be sure to understand its limitations. And if you decide to proceed, make sure you get feedback from a qualified professional as well.
My child has been diagnosed with autism. What's next?
Once you've decided to seek help for your child, the first step is to find a specialist. This could be a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, developmental pediatrician, speech therapist, occupational therapist, or any combination thereof.
Your child’s diagnosis should guide this decision. You may want to consult with several professionals until you find one that feels right.
When choosing a provider, look for one with experience working with children with ASD. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that providers have completed at least three years of training in diagnosing and managing ASD.
Also, be aware that different types of therapy are used to treat different symptoms. So it’s important to find a provider who specializes in treating those specific issues.
After choosing your child's therapist, they will decide whether your child should go with individualized or group-based therapy.
Individualized therapy focuses on teaching skills to each child individually, and it usually involves intensive work with a single therapist over time. Group-based therapy involves learning new skills while interacting with other children. It often includes social skills groups, such as play dates, birthday parties, and parent support groups.
The type of therapy your child receives depends on his age, needs, and preferences. Your child’s doctor will discuss which treatment option would best suit him.
Most popular therapies for reducing symptoms related to autism
Some of the most common treatments include:
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Applied behavior analysis is based on the idea that behaviors can be broken down into smaller components called “components of function.” These components are then taught separately so that they become automatic and easier to perform. For example, if a child doesn't like being touched, he might learn to avoid touching things. Or if he gets upset when he hears certain sounds, he might learn to ignore them. In applied behavior analysis, therapists teach children to recognize and respond to cues in order to reduce unwanted behaviors. They also use rewards to reinforce desired behaviors.
- Social Skills Training (SST). Social skills training teaches children to interact appropriately with peers and adults. It helps them develop better communication skills and problem-solving abilities. Social skills training is typically delivered through small classes led by trained teachers. Children practice these skills in real-life situations, such as school, home, and community settings.
- Occupational Therapy (OT). Occupational therapy uses activities to improve daily living skills. For instance, OT might teach a child how to brush her teeth independently. This therapy is especially helpful for children who need assistance with everyday tasks, such as dressing, eating, bathing, and toileting.
- Speech Therapy (Speech Pathology). Speech therapy is focused on improving language development. A speech pathologist works closely with parents and caregivers to provide early intervention services. They may recommend changes in diet, medications, or environmental factors that affect speech and language development. They may also help families create a positive environment where their child feels comfortable talking.
- Physical Therapy (PT). Physical therapy focuses on helping children regain strength and mobility after an injury or surgery. PT can also help children recover from conditions such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and muscular dystrophy. Therapists assess a child’s physical condition and make recommendations about exercises, stretching, and strengthening programs.
- Nutrition Therapy (Nutritionist). Nutrition therapy aims to improve overall health by providing balanced meals. This therapy is particularly important for children with special dietary needs, such as those who have allergies or food sensitivities. Therapists evaluate a child's nutritional intake and suggest ways to increase healthy foods in the diet.
- Counseling (Psychiatrist/Counselor). Counseling is used to treat mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A counselor will work with you to identify your concerns and find solutions.
- Behavioral Intervention (Behavioral Therapist). Behavioral interventions focus on changing undesirable behaviors. For example, behavioral interventions may include teaching children new social skills or using rewards to encourage desirable behaviors. Behavioral interventions are often used to address problems such as aggression, self-injury, and defiance.
Sensory toys for relieving anxiety and improving concentration:
Diagnosing autism can be challenging because it requires extensive observation of a child’s behavior. Online autism tests are generally considered not reliable and should always be interpreted with caution. However, some online autism tests do offer valuable information about a child’s strengths and weaknesses. They may even help determine whether a child has other developmental disorders, such as ADHD.
If you suspect your child has autism, talk to your doctor. Together, you can decide what type of treatment would best meet your family’s needs.
Photo credit: Unsplash.