Approximately one in 44 children in the U.S. has autism spectrum disorder. People with this condition often have difficulty communicating and relating socially to others. ASD occurs on a broad scale of severity. Some experience only mild challenges, while others have trouble navigating everyday life and may be unable to live independently. Embracing neurodiversity means accepting these differences and everything that comes with an autism diagnosis.
Early detection of the condition uses a combination of behavioral and educational interventions and medications, which can be helpful for the social, academic and professional success of those with ASD. Keep reading to learn more about autism, including the signs and how to get a private autism diagnosis to treat it.
What Is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurobiological disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate, socialize and relate to others. Other characteristics include repetitive behaviors or language and a hyperfocus on specific interests. ASD affects people differently and can cause mild or severe impairments. Symptoms often appear in the first three years of life, including delayed speech or avoiding eye contact.
What Are the Types of Autism?
In the past, doctors diagnosed ASD into four different subtypes. However, health care professionals now classify ASD as one broad category with different levels to identify the degrees of support an autistic person needs.
However, the American Psychiatric Association updated its definition of ASD in 2013, placing each one under the umbrella term of ASD. Today, clinicians use the autism spectrum to identify differences, skills and ability levels in autistic people. According to the DSM-5-TR, the two primary symptom categories of autism spectrum disorder are frequent challenges in social communication and interactions and restricted, repetitive behavioral patterns.
If you suspect you or your child has autism, it’s essential to understand these unique challenges to identify ways to cope with the disorder. Keep reading to learn more about the various signs in children and adults and how professionals diagnose it.
Asperger’s Syndrome vs. ASD
Health professionals formerly considered Asperger’s syndrome a mild form of ASD, though a diagnosis for this condition no longer exists and symptoms now fall under ASD.
While medical professionals do not use the term anymore, you may still see it used informally to describe mild autism symptoms. Most people with this “high-functioning” form of ASD have above-average intelligence and strong verbal skills accompanied by challenges with social communication.
What Are the Signs of Autism in Kids?
Autistic children think, learn and experience the world differently than other kids. They often face different degrees of communication, socialization and behavioral challenges. Some autistic children don’t require much support, while others will need daily help throughout their lives.
Health professionals should evaluate signs of autism in kids immediately to help provide the best outcomes. While symptoms may be evident in children as young as 12 months old, most autistic kids receive a diagnosis after 2 years old.
Most signs of autism become more apparent as kids age. An autistic child who needs support in social situations might display the following symptoms:
Avoids eye contact
Does not respond to their name
Does not share well or take turns with other kids
Does not participate in shared play
Does not tell stories
Prefers playing alone over playing with others
Does not make facial expressions
Does not like or actively avoids physical contact
An autistic child who needs additional help developing communication and language skills might display the following signs:
Cannot form sentences
Repeats words or phrases over and over
Does not answer questions appropriately or follow directions
Rarely or never uses gestures or body language, such as waving or pointing
Talks in a flat or monotone voice
Does not understand jokes, teasing or sarcasm
Does not understand counting or time
And lastly, an autistic child with repetitive or restrictive behaviors might show the following signs:
Performs repetitive motions, such as flapping their hands or rocking back and forth
Persistently or repeatedly organizes toys or other objects
Has to follow specific routines
Gets upset or frustrated by small changes
Has obsessive interests
Additionally, children with autism might display behaviors like hyperactivity, impulsivity, temper tantrums or irregular eating and sleeping habits.
What Are the Signs of Autism in Adults?
The “classic” symptoms of autism in children are not always present in adults on the spectrum. Adults with autism may display symptoms related to communication and social difficulties, repetitive behaviors, executive function and sensory processing difficulties.
Social symptoms of autism in adults include:
May be prone to unintentional social errors, such as misspeaking
Somewhat flat or nonverbal emotional display
Difficulty understanding what others are thinking and feeling
Challenges in maintaining conversations or staying on topic
Stilted language in social interactions
Difficulty articulating personal thoughts
Difficulty recognizing and interpreting facial expressions and body language in others
Intense memory of details, like facts and names
Needs support understanding figurative language — may be more comfortable taking things literally
Repetitive behaviors associated with autism in adults include:
Hand rubbing or foot tapping
Preference for routine or sameness and may experience outbursts when interrupted
Dressing in clothes that might contradict social expectations
Susceptible to distraction by sounds or visual effects
Lastly, adults with autism might exhibit the following executive function symptoms:
Needs support to set long-term schedules and goals
Experiences difficulties comprehending broad theories while grasping tiny details
Needs encouragement and support to understand other people’s perspectives and expectations
What Are the Strengths of People With Autism?
Autistic people can display a range of strengths and abilities often directly related to their diagnosis.
Learning to read at a very early age
Memorizing and learning information quickly
Visual thinking and learning
Remarkable logic skills
May excel in academic areas like science, engineering and mathematics
Having an excellent memory
Being precise and detail-oriented
Exceptional honesty and reliability
Dependably following schedules and routines
Having an excellent sense of direction
Able to concentrate for long periods when motivated
A capability for alternative problem-solving
A rare freshness and sense of wonderment
If you or your child has autism, you can embrace neurodiversity and their skills by recognizing the above strengths. While many people with ASD experience challenges in everyday life, they also have so many unique qualities that can benefit their lives.
How Do You Test for Autism in Adults and Kids?
Testing and diagnosing autism spectrum disorder includes looking into a child’s developmental history and behavior for a complete, accurate diagnosis. The process of diagnosing a child with autism involves three steps.
Monitoring: This step involves watching a child grow and continuing conversations between providers and parents about a child’s skills and abilities. Parents can observe how their child develops and whether they reach the typical milestones or skills most children meet by a specific age.
Screening: A developmental screening is more formal than monitoring. It is a regular part of some children’s visits, even when there is no known concern. Screening questionnaires rely on research that compares your child to their peers in the same age cohort.
Diagnosis: A developmental diagnosis often begins with a brief autism test for children. If this initial screening indicates an area of concern, a specialist can formally evaluate your child and ask you to fill out questionnaires related to their strengths and challenges to see whether they meet the criteria for a diagnosis.
For adults, the process of diagnosing autism will look a little different. If you suspect you may have autism, clinicians will take note of the symptoms you’re experiencing and observe you through a series of in-person observations and interactions.
A health care provider will speak to you about your issues regarding your emotions, communication, interests and behavioral patterns. You’ll answer questions about your childhood, and your clinician may request to speak with your family to gain perspective on your behavioral patterns. Your health provider may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a more in-depth assessment.
At What Age Should Kids Be Screened for Autism?
Health care professionals can provide an autism test for children between the ages of 2 and 4. However, many children do not receive a diagnosis until they are much older, and miss out on the early help they need.
What Types of Assessments Screen for Autism?
Several assessments can help health care professionals diagnose you or your child for autism. At Stanford Couples Counseling, we provide the following evaluations to diagnose ASD in adults and children:
The Monteiro Interview Guidelines for Diagnosing Autism
Personality Assessment Inventory
Behavior Assessment System for Children
Adaptive Behavior Assessment System
Social Responsiveness Scale
Sensory Processing Scale
Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale
Repetitive Behavior Questionnaire
We will also gather developmental history and collateral data, if possible, from a person’s family, partner and friends to provide a diagnosis.
How Much Does an Autism Evaluation Cost?
The cost of an autism evaluation will depend on your insurance and the clinic. However, the average out-of-pocket cost for a complete evaluation ranges from $1,000 to $2,000.
Why Screen for Autism?
There are many benefits of screening for autism, especially for younger children. Some studies have found screening children at 12 months can be reliable and help them receive early therapies. At such a young age, environmental input directly impacts the brain. Specifically, the frontal cortex, which is essential for developing social skills, makes significant connections between brain cells in the first two years of life.
By treating children before these connections form, they can see a notable improvement in symptoms as they age. Early intensive treatment could benefit a child’s cognitive function, language and daily living skills. Another benefit is that it can prevent challenging behaviors, such as self-violence or isolation from friends and family, which can develop in kids with autism. Therefore, diagnosing early can prevent these issues from starting.
For adults, a private autism diagnosis can bring relief and validate that legitimate reasons exist for their challenges. A diagnosis can also help them focus on their strengths and identify areas of difficulty they’d like to work on.
At the same time, an autism diagnosis might help you access additional therapy and support programs. For instance, you might be eligible for support, services and protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act includes certain rights, such as the right to reasonable accommodations at work and school and protection against discrimination based on any difficulties associated with autism.
There are many benefits to getting an autism diagnosis as an adult. Most importantly, you may feel like you can fully understand yourself and your unique strengths by putting your life’s challenges in perspective.
What Happens After an Autism Screening?
After completing your screening, you should have a follow-up consultation to discuss your assessment results. Your provider can also outline recommendations for ongoing support. At this stage, you can devise an action plan to put your report to good use and develop coping mechanisms so your child feels supported.
A plan of action might include the following:
Find support: As a parent of someone diagnosed with autism, you may feel overwhelmed at the start. Building a support network within your community is an excellent first step after receiving an autism diagnosis. Talking with other parents is an excellent way to build coping skills and get advice. The support can also help you feel less isolated in your journey.
Research: Learn more about ASD and how it manifests. Research can help you learn the therapies, tips, training and advice for parents of autistic children.
Develop a treatment plan: Work on building a plan that meets your needs. A good treatment plan for coping with ASD typically involves structure, routine and a multidisciplinary treatment strategy. Be open to change as your child grows and develops. If you have an ASD diagnosis, you might seek professional counseling to build coping skills for any symptoms you may be struggling with.
Practice self-care: Remember that you’ll be able to care for others better after taking care of yourself. Make sure you eat well and incorporate exercise into your routine. Relaxation and mindfulness exercises can be good for stress management while navigating an ASD diagnosis for your child.
Get an Autism Diagnosis at Stanford Couples Counseling
Getting a private autism diagnosis can give you a sense of relief, validation and get you started on a treatment path. At Stanford Couples Counseling, we can provide an autism test for children as young as 4, and ongoing counseling to help you or your child build skills to help you grow and flourish.
Dr. Jennifer Fast is a licensed clinical psychologist who has worked in various settings, from community mental health centers to higher education. She will work with you one-on-one through various assessment methods to get an accurate diagnosis for ASD. At Stanford Couples Counseling, we’ll help you address any challenges you may be experiencing while promoting your unique strengths every step of the way.
For a private autism diagnosis or professional counseling, we invite you to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fast today.
Mental Health Awareness Thanks to social media platforms, like TikTok, awareness is being raised about a variety of mental health disorders, most recently autism, dissociative identity disorder, and ADHD. Mental health professionals, especially testing psychologists, …