Why Autism Diagnoses Are Often Delayed

Why Autism Diagnoses Are Often Delayed

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) varies significantly in its symptoms from child to child and because it is developmental in nature, initial symptoms may not appear in the first few years of life. If symptoms do arise within your child’s first few years, they may go unrecognized if you don’t know what to look for.

The multidisciplinary team of specialists at PediaPlex uses a collaborative approach to develop an individualized autism treatment plan for children diagnosed with autism. No two children are alike. Our autism specialist, Sonia Kirkpatric, MBA, considers your child’s needs and goals to develop a supportive treatment. 

Even though most of the defining signs of autism appear by a child's second or third birthday, autism diagnoses are regularly delayed. We now know that early diagnosis and intervention can lead to significantly better long-term outcomes. Here’s what we want parents to know about challenges that may delay an autism diagnosis.

Autism diagnosis challenges

Parents of children diagnosed with autism often detect developmental differences in social, communicative, or fine motor skills before their child's first birthday—sometimes as early as six months of age.

While an autism diagnosis is sometimes made by a child's second birthday, most youngsters impacted by autism aren't diagnosed until they're almost five years old.

This may not seem like a long period of time until you consider that early intervention can have a substantial impact on later development. Here are a few of the most common reasons why autism diagnoses are often delayed. 

Signs often missed in high-functioning children 

Children who are on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum are often diagnosed significantly later than those who are on the lower-functioning end.

This is because higher-functioning youngsters are less likely to struggle with language problems, which is often a more noticeable sign of autism. They're also less likely to have intellectual deficiencies, which can lead to developmental delays or learning struggles later in life.

Children on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum are more likely to struggle with social interactions, particularly among their peers. This warning sign is more evident in preschool when the rules of social conduct grow more complex. 

Misdiagnosis leads to delay

More often than not, children with autism receive a different diagnosis initially. Often, it's ADHD, which is diagnosed by a pediatrician around the age of two or three. Alternatively, parents may be informed that their child has sensory processing difficulties. Autism often isn't detected until the rigors of school and social circumstances illuminate symptoms.

Sensory processing problems and ADHD are common in children with autism. If parents receive a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder or ADHD, it’s important not to stop there and to have your child evaluated for autism.

Signs show up later in some children

Some toddlers show few or no indicators of autism. If your child fits into this category, you may experience a delay in diagnosis. This is especially true if there are no obvious indicators by the age of 24 months. 

Early signs of autism to look out for

Learning to recognize the early indicators of autism is one of the most effective strategies to ensure that children with autism receive timely diagnosis and critical early intervention care.

Early autism symptoms, like later symptoms, vary greatly among young children in terms of nature and intensity. Some infants exhibit symptoms in their initial months of life, while others may not exhibit any symptoms until they reach their first birthday.

A few of the early signs of autism include:

Avoiding eye contact, repetitive actions such as rocking or flapping, and any loss of previously gained verbal or social abilities are also signs of autism to watch for.

If you feel your child is on the autism spectrum, you should seek comprehensive evaluation. The PediaPlex team recommends requesting the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd edition screening

Once your child receives an autism diagnosis, our compassionate team of experts provides support every step of the way. When you’re ready to start your child’s journey, you can complete a patient intake form here

To learn more about our individualized therapies, give us a call to schedule a consultation with our team. We have a clinic in Southlake, Fort Worth, and Frisco, Texas. Together, we can ensure that your child thrives!

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