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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I know if my child has autism or aspergers syndrome?

    A friend of mines child has just been diagnosed with autism- i have a 2 and a half year old girl and want to know what signs to look out for?
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  • 7


    Joanne Lazarus

    Speech Pathologist

    A passionate and experienced Speech Pathologist; I work with children aged 0-18 years with a range of difficulties including Autism, Stuttering, Attention deficit and Hyperactivity ... View Profile

    Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates, relates to and understands other people and the world around them. It is called a Spectrum disorder because each individual with the disorder will be affected differently. Some individuals with Autism may require lifelong specialist support due to their learning disabilities while others can live fairly independent lives.
    Regardless, everyone with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder has difficulties in 3 main areas.
    Difficulties with Social Communication
    A child with Autism Spectrum Disorder may have poor attention/listening skills, reduced interest in communicating with others, difficulty starting and maintaining a conversation, language disorder, difficulty processing information and difficulty understanding nonverbal communication such as facial expression, tone of voice and gestures

    Difficulties with Social Interaction
    They may also have a decreased interest in sharing experiences with others, difficulty understanding social rules and signals, difficulty making and developing friendships, difficulty recognising or understanding other’s feelings and needs as well as their own

    Difficulties with Social Imagination
    A child with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder may find it hard to understand other’s thoughts, feelings and actions, predict what could happen next, understand the concept of danger, engage in imaginative play, cope with change or new situations. They may also have repetitive and restricted play such as lining up toys
    Often, children with Autism share a love of routines which provides familiarity and stability in an otherwise uncertain world. People with Autism may also experience some form of sensory sensitivity to one of their senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste) where they might be overly sensitive or under sensitive.
    Here are some behaviours to look out for (usually a number of these behaviours would have to occur together to indicate Autism):

    • Unexplained tantrums
    • Unusual repetitive motor movements such as flapping, rocking or spinning
    • Difficulty coping with changes in routine
    • Dislike/fear of everyday sounds
    • Preoccupation/dislike of certain textures
    • Walking on tiptoes
    • Intense special interests from an early age for example art, trains or computers.
    • Not responding to name by 12 months
    • Not pointing/waving by 12 months
    • Regression in communication skills
    • No spontaneous language by 24 months
    • Repetitive language such as scenes from a television program
    • Looking away when you talk to him/her
    • Lack of response to facial expression
    • Reduced interest in others
    • Difficulty following simple instructions
    • Limited social play and prefers playing alone
    • Repetitive play such as spinning car wheels
    Diagnosis of an Autistic Spectrum Disorder is usually carried out by a developmental paediatrician, psychiatrist or psychologist. The assessment is comprehensive and includes observations and meetings with the individual, their family and service providers. A profile of the child’s strengths and areas of needs is formed. If you have any concerns about your child, please speak to your GP who may refer your child to a paediatrician for a diagnostic assessment.

  • 4


    Grant McKell


    Grant McKell is a counselling psychologist working in Sydney's inner west with over ten years' experience. He founded HeadsUp Psychology in August, 2011. Having worked in ... View Profile

    If clinicians are going to use the DSM 5 which is to be released soon as the framework within which to diagnose, then there will be no distinction between Aspergers and Autism. The diagnosis is simply going to be an autistic spectrum disorder along with a number from 1-3 indicating severity.

    The criteria for diagnosis in broad terms will be that a child must present with three areas of impairment.
    1): Difficulties with socialisation and communication
    2): Trouble regulating emotions
    3): Having areas of fixed interest, adherence to routines, obsessions and/or rigidity in behaviour.

    Kids with autistic spectrum disorder may have other traits as well, but these will not be necessary for a diagnosis; these will help assess levels of functioning and areas where support may be needed. Such things may include sensory oversensitivities, difficulty in displays of empathy, intellectual difficulties, learning difficulties, gross and fine motor problems, troubles with accepting and giving affection to family members to name a few. The reason that these are not needed for a diagnosis is that there are many autistic spectrum kids who do not exhibit difficulties in these areas, therefore they are unreliable as diagnostic criteria.

    If you are in any doubt at all, go along and see your GP for a referral to a paediatrician or child psychiatrist. As a psychologist, I would recommend that you see these practitioners first.

    My experience is that a psychologist can then help best by assisting you to develop a behaviour management plan in response to your child's needs and depending upon any diagnosis made.

  • 2


    Debra-Ann Tanne

    Speech Pathologist

    I am a speech pathologist working across a range of communication areas, including speech, language, auditory processing, fluency and literacy skills.I am passionate abut optimising ... View Profile

    According to new assessment on the DSM, which will be used by practitioners making a diagnosis, there will be no difference between ASD and Asperger. There is considered a continuum of ASD. Areas of challenge differ and there is a large range of variability in how challenges present. 

    As a clinician, I believe that the priority is to identify challenges and work on improving or optimising the skills to allow for highest skill achievement. The goal is for the child to be as involved as possible with his environment in a functional way.

    Assessment of specific challenges is the key to working on, and improving, the skills.

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