Why Autism Spectrum Disorders are So Hard to Diagnose

Why Autism Spectrum Disorder is So Hard to Diagnose

Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult since there are no medical tests to diagnose it, and it’s exhibited as a spectrum of closely related symptoms.

To make an ASD diagnosis, specialty doctors like a neurodevelopmental pediatrician or a pediatric neurologist must examine a child’s behavior and development. However, these doctors often have long waiting lists—sometimes up to six months. An early intervention program may be your first contact for evaluation so you can get your child help as soon as possible.  

“Early intervention programs must follow specific timelines dictated by state and federal rules and regulations,” says Maria Emerson, speech-language pathologist and manager of Virtua’s Early Intervention Program. “Once a referral is made, the clock starts ticking. We have 45 days to evaluate the child and, if eligible for the program, write a plan to meet the needs of the child and family.”

If the evaluators believe the child is exhibiting autistic behaviors, the team will refer the child back to the pediatrician for a referral to a developmental pediatrician or pediatric neurologist. “However, if a child is exhibiting early signs of autism, we don’t wait for the child to receive a diagnosis from a doctor. We begin treating the symptoms and start working with the child and family right away,” says Emerson.

The Virtua Early Intervention Program treats children from birth to age 3. However, many kids with autism don’t show overt signs until after age 2. New research has shown that if children get early intervention, it’s more likely that they won’t need intensive support in elementary school.

A Final Bit of Advice

“Don’t be afraid to have your child evaluated if you have any concerns for your child’s development, or if you think he or she might be showing signs of autism,” says Emerson. “It’s better to be cautious and find out your child is doing fine than to miss the signs and not get help early on.”

For more information about Virtua’s Early Intervention Program call: 1-888-VIRTUA-3 (1-888-847-8823).

To make a referral call: 1-888-NJEIINFO (1-888-653-4463).

Updated January 14, 2022

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