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Does my child have autism?

Disclaimer: Speech-language pathologists cannot make autism diagnoses, but we are part of the assessment process, at least in BC. If you are concerned about autism, please reach out to our local speech-language pathologist, pediatrician, or psychologist for a multi-disciplinary assessment.


What are the signs for autism?

Diagnosis of autism is based on the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). This webpage from the CDC explains what the criteria is.


Now that formalities are out of the way, let's talk about some early signs. Autism Navigator is a great resource for parents. They have a great check-list that you can fill out to determine if signs of autism are present.


Here are a few signs that suggest a screening for autism may be appropriate:


Difficulties with social communication and social interaction

  • Does your child respond to their name consistently?

  • Does your child shared interest or engagement with you consistently?

  • Does your child look at your consistently?

  • Does your child use gestures (e.g., pointing, nodding, waving, clapping) to get your attention consistently?

  • Does your child smile or share warm, joyful expressions?

  • Does your child play pretend with you?

  • Using another person's hand as a tool (e.g., taking your hand to open a jar or get an item)

  • Stopped using words that they used to have

  • More interest in play with objects than people

Restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities

  • Repetitive movements with objects, body or speech

  • Strong adherence to routines and difficulty with transitions

  • Fixated or excessive interest with certain objects or action

  • Lack of response to certain sensations (e.g., pain, sounds)

  • Unusual sensory exploration/exploration of sensory aspects in the environment

The items above were compiled from the SORF and CDC. If you answered "no" to some of the questions above and are finding that you agree with many of the other statements, you may want to complete the checklist from SORF and/or contact a local health provider (see below).


How early can autism be diagnosed?

Autism can be diagnosed as early as 18-24 months. Some signs even appear earlier at 12 months of age. I think this Hanen article does a great job of summarizing the signs and describing when autism can be diagnosed.



Why is early screening and assessment important?

  • When diagnosed early, children can access intervention services earlier which has shown to lead to better outcomes than later intervention. See this and this.

  • Research has also shown that symptoms are more severe when diagnosis is made later. See this.

Logistically speaking, early intervention is easier to access early! Early intervention programs are typically funded for children from 0-5.


In BC, the wait time for an public autism assessment is around 18-24 months. For example, even though a referral is made for an autism assessment at 3 years of age, your child may not get assessed until they are around 4.5-5. Even after the assessment, there's a lot of paperwork that needs time to complete before you are able to access funding for intervention services. The sooner that your child is screened, the sooner that a referral can be made, if deemed necessary.


A child does not need a diagnosis to access early public intervention services in BC, but when a child is diagnosed with autism in BC, your child may received up to $22000 a year to pay for private, intensive therapy services up until they are 6 years of age. See this webpage.


Next Steps

At the end of the day, it is a very personal decision whether or not you want to have a conversation with a health service provider regarding your concerns. If you do decide that there are concerns and you would like to talk to a health provider, below are some possible next steps:

  • Discuss with your family doctor your concerns to see if a referral to a pediatrician is appropriate. In BC, a pediatrician or family doctor can make a referral to Sunny Hill Health Centre for a public autism assessment.

  • Speak to a speech-language pathologist. We are trained to assess social communication skills in infant and toddlers. In BC, you can ask your family doctor for a referral or self-refer to speech therapy programs that are publicly funded, or you can find a private, local speech-language pathologist on the Speech and Hearing BC website or on the Register Autism Service Providers List. Typically, public speech-language pathologists work in public health units or child development centers.

  • Learn more about early signs of autism. Autism Navigator has some great checklists and resources!

If you have questions about my post, you can contact me at cassie@startnowspeech.com.


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© 2020 by Cassie Tam.