The hurdles of late diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder can be immense—from missed educational opportunities to increased risks of mental health issues. But that’s not to mean that a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is a negative thing. Knowing an individual’s diagnosis can be empowering and life-changing, allowing those on the spectrum to understand themselves and their needs better.
Early diagnosis, however, comes with immeasurable benefits that can make a positive difference in an autistic child’s life.
Why early diagnosis
In an Interview with Senior Medical Director Doctor Kraft, She elaborates on why early diagnosis is so essential: “To put this in the right context, can you identify the grade which most students are expelled from school?” Asks Dr Kraft, “It’s preschool grade– it’s the little guys who are expelled. Why? Because of differences in behavior and communication difficulties.”
Dr Kraft explains that pediatricians and parents work together to identify these differences and create developmentally appropriate behavior regulation and management to help the child succeed. She explains that a young child diagnosed with autism may not understand the developmental context of what an adult is saying, the social cues or the behaviors that might get them in trouble. “This leads to problems like children not doing well in preschool, parents throwing their hands up, and expulsion.
Early diagnosis allows for the development of behavior management plans that are tailored to the individual’s needs. It can lead to access to therapies and educational opportunities, providing a supportive environment where the child can thrive.
“So we screen children early,” says Dr Kraft. “We look at behavior, communication and other factors to assess the possibility that a child may have Autism.” She explains that schools are looking to partner with pediatricians to help educate the parents and school staff about behavioral differences and how to support students with autism best.
The problem with stigmatization
The Interviewer also asked Dr Kraft to explain the problem around the stigmatization of autism and how this problem can be addressed. Dr Kraft explains when many parents hear that their child has autism, their initial response is like that of a death sentence. Yet, as she clarifies, a diagnosis of autism was a shock 20 years ago, but 20 years later, there are many treatments and interventions available to assist those with ASD.
“Science shows that when children’s autism is diagnosed and intervened early, many of them don’t show the signs at all”, says Dr Kraft. “So part of this stigma roots from history, when there wasn’t any knowledge or awareness about autism and people didn’t understand what it was.”
She continues to explain that “Pediatricians should explain to parents that there are many treatments available to support their child and things have changed from the past. Children with autism can thrive with early diagnosis and access to proper treatment.”
Dr Kraft also adds that it’s when a parent learns the child has autism; first they think they are the ones who caused it, and next, they think they can’t do anything; this is not true, and it’s essential for parents to understand that there are no known causes for autism. Pediatricians can help reduce this stigma by helping parents to understand that autism & get from this stigma.
She wraps by saying children with autism are some of the most notable and impressive individuals she’s had the privilege to work with. “It can be gratifying for parents and children when early diagnosis leads to access to appropriate resources, interventions, and treatments.”