As a parent, you know your child best. You may have a strong suspicion that your little one may have autism, but since language and social development are such a major part of the condition, and toddlers tend to have limited language and social skills even if they’re neurotypical, medical professionals are sometimes unwilling to give a diagnosis if they are under two years of age. So what do you do if your doctor won’t give your child a diagnosis for autism?
It may have been your idea to seek a diagnosis for autism, or it might have been someone else’s suggestion. School or daycare staff are sometimes the first to spot the signs since they have a whole class of neurotypical children to compare your child with.
As of this writing, there’s no standard test for autism. Medical professionals go on a broad set of criteria and it’s basically a judgment call. You can get situations where different professionals disagree with each other. And, the average age of diagnosis is currently about five and a half. But signs of the developmental disorder may be seen as early as a year old.
Yet even if you notice challenges with your child making eye contact or other early signs of autism, some doctors still dismiss those concerns, saying your child will "grow out of it." That can delay diagnosis and your child's access to services and therapy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends screening children for developmental issues even as young as 9 months, and screening for autism specifically at the 18-month and 24-month check-ups.
Doctors have tools they can utilize such as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, or M-CHAT. You as a parent can also take the M-CHAT online, at https://www.m-chat.org, then discuss the results with your doctor.
And although this checklist only detects a risk for autism, not autism itself, it may help you with the first steps toward a diagnosis for autism. Other tools, such as the Infant-Toddler Checklist, may be more accurate in screening for autism from ages 9 months to 24 months. Your doctor can then determine whether further testing is necessary and whether to send your child to a specialist for a full evaluation.
If this doesn’t work, you do not need to wait for a medical diagnosis for autism in order to begin receiving help. In the United States, you as a parent can refer your child to your local early intervention or the school system for a free evaluation of developmental delays and learning disabilities.
The early intervention services (EIS) program has 45 days to evaluate your child and, if appropriate, begin developing a treatment plan with your family. EIS for children younger than 3 is mandated by the federal government to help children who have developmental delays as soon as possible. The staff at EIS can also evaluate your child's cognitive, learning and language skills. Services vary depending on a child's age and needs but often include speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.
The federal government also requires public school districts to provide free evaluations and services for children who are aged 3 and older. Talk to your child's doctor or contact your school district to request an assessment. The district must conduct an evaluation within 60 days of your request.
Until you take these steps, you won't know for sure whether your child has autism. An evaluation by a professional can confirm a diagnosis for autism – or rule it out. Many types of healthcare professionals deal with autism, and the specialists available to you will vary depending on where you live.
If this process sounds overwhelming and you feel you need help, you can always reach out to us.
American Advocacy Group is on the front lines every day, making positive change happen for people diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome and a range of diagnoses across the continuum. As a leading advocate for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and the premier provider of the support and services people want and need, we understand the system and know how to take action in regard to your best interests.
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