Unless they have been directly affected, not many people understand: What is Autism Disorder, and how is it diagnosed?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affected 115,400 Australian children in 2012, with increasing prevalence predicted across the world.
Children with ASD may experience issues with sensory, social, and communication difficulties, which may in turn place numerous daily tasks on parents when managing their child.
Defining Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Australia defines ASD as “lifelong development disabilities characterised by marked difficulties in social interaction, impaired communication, restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours, and sensory sensitivities” (Autism Spectrum Australia, 2015, para. 1).
As noted, ASD is a lifelong condition, although the social, communication and sensory difficulties may be remediated by methods of intervention therapy and structured support (ABS, 2012).
Data shows the prevalence of ASD is increasing in Australia.
In 2012, an estimated 115,400 Australians (0.5 percent) had ASD, an increase of 79 percent on the 64,400 people estimated to have the condition in 2009 (ABS, 2012).
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) survey showed that ASD was four times more likely to occur in males than females, with prevalence rates of 0.8 percent and 0.2 percent respectively. Prevalence rates increase from birth, peaking between 5 and 9 years old and dropping off as age increases (ABS, 2012).
Why is Autism becoming more Common?
Reasons for the increases in prevalence are controversial and may be explained by:
- changes to the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM);
- increasing awareness and a greater willingness to diagnose; and
- the introduction of ASD into special education systems in mainstream schooling.
The DSM first classified children with autism in 1980, whereas previously it was called “childhood schizophrenia”.
From DSM-III to DSM-IV, in 1994, increases in specific details of diagnosis, including a reduction of the number of specific criteria to be met, may have led to increases in diagnosis (ABS, 2012).
Weintraub (2011) stated the increased prevalence may be partially explained by a heightened awareness of ASD, therefore reducing fear around the label of ASD. A diagnosis of ASD became included in the school special education system in the 20th Century, increasing awareness and management of ASD (Angloinfo, 2016).
Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder
At times, a school may identify symptoms of autism in a child and suggest an assessment to confirm or deny this diagnosis. Schools may advise this in order to receive additional government funding, to better assist the child with their educational requirements.
The process may involve a cognitive test and a test of everyday functioning, which may then be diagnosed by a paediatrician, psychiatrist or neurologist.
A psychologist can administer the neurological assessments required for diagnosis of ASD. This may involve an Intelligence test (or IQ test), and an adaptive functioning assessment which assesses the child’s daily functioning.
The diagnosis process can be managed by a psychologist with interactions with the child’s GP, paediatrician or psychiatrist, the school and of course with the parents. Please contact me if you would like more information around this process.
Author: Cassandra Gist, BPsych (Hons), MPsych, MAPS.
Brisbane Psychologist Cassandra Gist works with clients aged from two years old right through to adulthood. She has a special interest in working with children and their families around the diagnosis and treatment of issues such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Cassandra Gist, try online booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.