A better approach to diagnosing autism

December 23, 2013 by Cindy Wolfe Boynton, University of Connecticut
Mary Beth Bruder, director of the A.J. Pappanikou Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Research, demonstrates one of the techniques she would use to diagnose an autistic child. Credit: Shawn Kornegay/UConn Photo

As the number of children with autism increases nationwide, the need for effective and consistent clinical diagnosis is growing. A statewide committee recently published new guidelines designed to ensure health professionals, educators, parents, and all involved in diagnosing a child with autism are using proven and consistent practices.

The guidelines stress, among other things, that effective and treatment requires a collaborative approach.

Mary Beth Bruder, a professor in UConn's Neag School of Education and in the UConn School of Medicine, was co-chair of the committee, which spent four years developing the "Connecticut Guidelines for a Clinical Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder."

"Diagnosing autism doesn't require a snapshot, it requires a comprehensive, interdisciplinary look at the child," says Bruder, who heads a doctoral program in early childhood intervention in the Department of Educational Psychology and is director of UConn's A.J. Pappanikou Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Research, Education, and Service. "Physicians, educators, social workers, and speech pathologists are among the many professionals that should be involved in first the diagnosis, and then the treatment of a child with autism. A complete picture is required. And parents play a crucial role."

Laura Kern, a third-year doctoral student in at the Neag School, is both the mother of a 9-year-old son with autism and one of the parents involved in providing the data and insights needed to craft the new guidelines. She says one of the things she learned during her son's diagnosis is that as many as 51 percent of parents report dissatisfaction at the lack of continuity in the process. The new Connecticut guidelines provide a step-by-step, interdisciplinary guide.

"The guidelines address parents' concerns in a systematic way, and if you approach a diagnosis systematically, you're more likely to reach needed services and early interventions more effectively and efficiently," Kern says. "It was incredible to be part of the process of creating the guidelines, and to see so many different state agencies, parents, and professionals come together to create a united message about what a good diagnosis should look like."

Funded with an $86,000 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the guidelines are the result of a collaboration among members of the Connecticut Act Early Project, a partnership that includes experts from a wide range of leading childhood health and disabilities agencies, including the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Bruder says Act Early Connecticut is now pursing the funding needed to educate and train all state professionals involved in autism diagnoses on the best practices included in the .

The rising number of children with autism makes this extremely important work, she notes.

The CDC estimates that as many as 1 in 88 children have a form of autism, which can range from mildly impaired social skills to severe cognitive and behavioral problems. This statistic, released in 2012, represents a 23 percent increase from data collected in 2009, and illustrates well the growing and urgent need for effective diagnosis, Bruder says.

"Scientists are working very hard to determine why this increase is happening," she adds, "but essential to the process is consistency in how these diagnoses are being made. Autism affects every aspect of a child's life, so it only makes sense to have people from each of those areas involved in realizing the positive outcomes that can come from appropriate and early interventions."

Explore further: Computer automation system improves autism screening rate

Related Stories

Computer automation system improves autism screening rate

November 15, 2013
An automated system developed by researchers from the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University to help pediatricians focus on the specific health needs of each patient in the short time allotted for preventive care improves ...

Ga. autism project looks to early detection

September 21, 2013
A partnership between an autism research center and the state of Georgia is working to boost early detection and diagnosis of the disorder.

Early diagnosis of autism can lead to better treatment

May 11, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Autism awareness month has come and gone for 2012, but the need for awareness has not. The struggles for families affected by the disorder remain, and the number of those affected continues to rise.

New publication supports early diagnosis of children on autism spectrum

October 2, 2012
A new publication developed by Indiana University centers and the Indiana State Department of Health encourages parents to have their young children evaluated if they suspect autism and provides guidance for professional ...

Identifying the signs of autism earlier

October 29, 2013
How early can you diagnose autism? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends screening children beginning at 18 months, but research suggests subtle warning signs may be apparent even earlier, according to Patricia ...

Health officials report 1 in 50 school kids have autism

March 20, 2013
A government survey of parents says 1 in 50 U.S. schoolchildren has autism, surpassing another federal estimate for the disorder.

Recommended for you

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

Being bilingual may help autistic children

January 16, 2018
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have a hard time switching gears from one task to another. But being bilingual may actually make it a bit easier for them to do so, according to a new study which was recently ...

No rise in autism in US in past three years: study

January 2, 2018
After more than a decade of steady increases in the rate of children diagnosed with autism in the United States, the rate has plateaued in the past three years, researchers said Tuesday.

Autism therapy: Brain stimulation restores social behavior in mice

December 13, 2017
Scientists are examining the feasibility of treating autistic children with neuromodulation after a new study showed social impairments can be corrected by brain stimulation.

Social phobia linked to autism and schizophrenia

December 11, 2017
New Swinburne research shows that people who find social situations difficult tend to have similar brain responses to those with schizophrenia or autism.

Odors that carry social cues seem to affect volunteers on the autism spectrum differently

November 27, 2017
Autism typically involves the inability to read social cues. We most often associate this with visual difficulty in interpreting facial expression, but new research at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that the sense ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.