Family Health Guide

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Autism Spectrum Disorders: At the Doctor

At every well-child visit, your pediatrician should be inquiring about and evaluating your child for age-appropriate developmental milestones for gross and fine motor skills, as well as speech. From the age of six months on, the doctor should also be looking for early signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorders and other developmental problems. The doctor will also ask about your child’s eating and feeding habits, relationships with peers and adults, playing habits, and other key aspects of childhood. The AAP “advocates early screening at 18 and 24 months of age and early diagnosis so that effective interventions can be introduced and all children with autism and related disorders may reach their maximum potential.” Your doctor can use a variety of autism-specific screening tools, which include simple questions or checklists about your child. If a child clearly meets the criteria for an ASD, the doctor may make the diagnosis; if there’s any question, the pediatrician may refer you to a neurodevelopmental pediatrician for a more in-depth evaluation.

It’s also a good idea for parents to keep a journal of their child’s symptoms and patterns of behavior if there’s any doubt he’s developing normally. Bring notes, listing your concerns about your child’s odd symptoms or behaviors, including when they started and how they’re affecting his ability to function in his young life. This way, you won’t become tongue-tied during the visit, or leave feeling like you didn’t get your questions answered. Also, be sure to bring any relevant school or daycare records or reports, including comments from teachers. It’s best if both parents can come to the appointment so that you both get a clear-eyed view of what’s happening with your child, and have the opportunity to ask questions.