Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction as well as restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities. Autism Doctors could be described as Doctors who deal with autism and autism diagnosis. Below is the diagnostic criteria from the American Psychiatric Association’s fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5):
Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive, see text):
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
- Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
- Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.
Specify current severity: Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted repetitive patterns of behavior.
Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):
- Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypies, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
- Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat food every day).
- Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).
- Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).
Specify current severity: Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.
- Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).
- Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
- These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.
Note: Individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Individuals who have marked deficits in social communication, but whose symptoms do not otherwise meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder, should be evaluated for social (pragmatic) communication disorder.
- With or without accompanying intellectual impairment
- With or without accompanying language impairment
- Associated with a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor
- Associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioral disorder
- With catatonia
What are the red flags for autism?
- A child not responding to his or her name by 12 months of age
- A child that does not point to objects to show interest by 14 months of age or not responding to someone pointing at objects
- A child not engaging in pretend play by 18 months
- A child not showing an interest in toys or playing with same toy or parts of a toy
- A child avoiding eye contact and/or interaction
- A child finding it difficult to understand their own or other’s emotions or expressions
- A child with delayed speech and language skills
- A child repeating words or phrases also referred to as echolalia
- A child engaging in frequent challenging behavior such as aggression, self-injurious behavior or tantrum behaviour
Doctors who deal with autism and autism diagnosis
When you suspect your child has an autism the first step is to consult with the relevant medical practitioner to confirm the diagnosis, this can be done by consulting with one of the following practitioners by ensuring they have experience with Autism spectrum disorder:
- A pediatric neurologist or neurologist: This is a physician specializing in diagnosing and treating disorders of the nervous system.
- A developmental pediatrician: This is a physician specializing in diagnosing and treating children developmental disabilities from birth to adolescence.
- A psychologist or educational psychologist: This is a licensed practitioner specializing in understanding a person’s behavior, emotions, and cognitive skills.
- Psychiatrist: This is a physician who focuses on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses from a biological and psychological perspective and may prescribe various medications for treatment.
What do I do now?
Once an autism diagnosis is made your medical journey does not end here, now it is time to start your journey with a doctor who will treat the biomedical problems associated with an autism diagnosis such as food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune issues, lowered immune function, gut issues, heavy metal toxicity, the inability to detoxify environmental toxins and other medical problems.
More about biomedical treatment for Autism
A biomedical approach combined with the proper educational or therapeutic intervention, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), will be the best course of action for your child’s journey.
List of doctors who deal with diagnosing autism in Gauteng:
List removed since it was outdated, for information about choosing the right autism doctors to assist with diagnosis and treatment of autism please refer to the updated article here.