Medical Q&As

Autism - diagnosis?

How can autism be diagnosed?

Diagnosing autism in a child can be a difficult and time consuming process that may require an input from a variety of child healthcare workers which may include a child psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, counsellor and speech therapist. Various other conditions have to be excluded before a definitive diagnosis is made. These conditions include Aspergerís disorder, mutism, Rettís disorder, expressive language disorder, mental retardation and other pervasive developmental disorders. Autism is a complex disorder characterised by impairment in social interaction as well as impairment in communication. The disorder usually begins before three years of age. Examples of impaired social interaction could include impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviours such as eye-to-eye contact, body posture, facial expression and lack of showing or pointing out objects of interest. Communication difficulties could include delay or lack of development in spoken language. It might include repetitive or idiosyncratic use of language. The child might also exhibit a certain rigidity by adhering to specific routines or rituals. Specific mannerisms of movement could include repetitive hand or finger movements or even complex whole body movements. The range of behaviour can be quite diverse hence the need for a broad range of professionals to be involved in the assessment. You can learn more about autism by reading our special feature on this condition, which you can access through the following link: http://www.irishhealth.com/index.html?level=4&id=431. There is also an Irish website devoted exclusively to this topic and it can be accessed at: http://www.iol.ie/~dary/isa/.