It was once believed that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) were rare. In the 1960s, it would only affect 1 in every 10,000 children. Now, approximately 1 out of every 68 children will be diagnosed with ASD before the age of 8.
Since research began on ASD over 60 years ago, a strong focus has been put on identifying symptoms and differentiating them from symptoms of other disorders. While the signs themselves often change with age, there is an extensive range of symptoms that can be observed in children at any age. This has led to the development of early identification tools such as the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers).
These early identification tools have also led to a change in how ASD is diagnosed. Before a child can be analyzed, they must first pass through several developmental milestones. The checklist for autism must be given at 18 months old, and the list for ASD must be passed before the age of 3.
This has led many parents to watch their child’s development very closely from birth. If even the slightest deviation from what occurs typically before the age of 18 months, many parents will seek out a professional diagnosis. It is important to note that children who receive early intervention and go on to be diagnosed later in life tend to have much better outcomes than those who do not.
The average age for an ASD diagnosis is around 4 years old. This leads many to question why it takes children with ASD so long to be diagnosed.
The answer is simple: Autism symptoms often look like symptoms of other developmental disorders and are misinterpreted as such until the child has reached their third birthday. These symptoms can also mimic symptoms of schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s in older adults.
There are many developmental disorders with symptoms that can overlap at certain stages. While these are two distinct disorders, the symptoms of Rett syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder may be similar to ASD in early development.
Misdiagnosis is dangerous because it means children are often put on incorrect treatment plans leading to inferior outcomes in their later years. There is a powerful stigma against those who have schizophrenia as well as those who have Alzheimer’s.
It is important to remember that while the average age for an ASD diagnosis is 4, this does not mean it takes 4 years to receive a correct diagnosis. This statistic reflects how long it takes children with ASD to reach the 3 year old checkpoint.
If your child has been diagnosed with any developmental disorder, you should consider looking into a diagnostic screening. There are many factors that may contribute to the late diagnosis of ASD, but they are rarely something to be worried about. Early intervention is significant for those with ASD and will play a key role in their future capabilities. If your child misses out on early intervention, they will likely show an increased difficulty in adapting to their surroundings.
Late diagnosis of ASD is becoming less common as knowledge of the disorder spreads and diagnostic screening is improved upon. It’s important not to be discouraged if your child has missed out on early intervention. You can still help them receive the best possible treatment by keeping lines of communication open between you, your child’s doctor, and their teachers.
If you suspect your child may have ASD, don’t be afraid to ask for a professional diagnosis. It is better to receive a suspicious diagnosis than an incorrect one. There is no harm in asking questions or in seeking a second opinion. If it turns out there was a misdiagnosis, the sooner this is discovered, the sooner you can seek treatment for your child.
Parents who are suffering from the late diagnosis of their children may need support to deal with feelings of guilt or inadequacy. Getting someone else involved to share these feelings with can be helpful in working past them and moving on to better things.
As awareness about ASD grows, early diagnosis is becoming more common. With better diagnostic screening and more excellent knowledge of the disorder, many children will receive their diagnosis at a very young age. It has been observed that those with ASD who are diagnosed as young as 2 have significantly higher cognitive abilities than those who received their diagnosis later in life.