Why An Autism Test Is Crucial To Long-Term Prognosis

By Sarah Fader

Updated May 09, 2019

Reviewer Amanda Andrews

Although there is no cure for autism, some children with autism "recover" and no longer have the condition. The reasons for this recovery are not completely understood, but it does occur, and some speculate that early intervention and persistent therapy play a role. Testing early for autism does not mean a child will recover, but if the chance exists, early diagnosis and therapy may be crucial.

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Recovery from autism is a controversial subject, both sides of the debate have valid points, but one fact remains the same regardless of the belief in recovery; early diagnosis and early intervention through applied behavior analysis provides the best chance for optimal outcomes. An optimal outcome for an individual with autism is an outcome where the individual can live independently.

Testing for Autism

Diagnosing autism requires specific testing. First is the developmental screening, this screening will determine if a young child/toddler is developing and learning at the speed they should be. Children are screened for developmental delays during regular well visits with the doctor. These screenings look for delays in social skills and communication skills. The doctor will also ask the parent questions to screen for delays not readily noticeable during screening.

Developmental screening is done at 9 months, 18 months, then again at 24 to 30 months of age. If a child shows signs of developmental delays, further screening will be requested. This screening is usually the first time autism may be detected, detecting it this early can make a big difference in the eventual developmental outcome for the child.

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The next level of testing is comprehensive diagnostic evaluation. This evaluation will test the child's behavior and development and interview the parents for additional information. This testing includes hearing and vision tests, genetic and neurological testing, and other testing as requested by the doctor for determining if further testing is needed for autism spectrum disorder.

Comprehensive diagnostic evaluation can be done by the primary care pediatrician or it may be performed by specialists. Specialist doctors who perform comprehensive diagnostic evaluation include: developmental pediatricians, child neurologists, and child psychologists and psychiatrists.

The CHAT test is a screening test for toddlers. This autism screening test is done between the ages of 18 and 24 months to detect autism. This screening is not for diagnosing autism, it is for detecting factors that could be warning signs for autism. If a child does not pass the first CHAT screening, a second screening is performed. If the child does not pass the second screening, they are referred for further testing and diagnosing.

The CAST test, is a yes or no test taken by parents. It was developed by the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University to evaluate the severity of autism spectrum symptoms. Although this test is can evaluate the severity of autism spectrum symptoms, it is taken by the parents and it is not a diagnostic tool for diagnosing autism.

Types of Treatment

Medical treatment of symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders can include medicine for seizures, medicine to manage depression, energy levels, and improve focus. Autism itself is not treated with medicine, only some of the symptoms are treated this way. Autism itself is treated in other ways, one of the most popular is applied behavior analysis.

Applied behavior analysis is the study of behaviors and how the environment affects those behaviors. ABA or applied behavior analysis is done by an applied behavior analyst, the child's behaviors and environment is studied and therapy revolves around the findings. ABA is used to initiate an early intensive behavioral intervention and this type of treatment is known to have positive outcomes for individuals who have been in the treatment program.

Successful treatment for autism spectrum disorders using ABA is achieved by redirecting behaviors and replacing behaviors. Proponents of this form of treatment believe that it is only effective if it can be applied at least 25 hours a week. The intensive redirecting and replacing of behaviors must be reinforced until changes are noted. Many believe that this type of treatment can help children recover from autism spectrum disorders.

Different types of ABA used for teaching children with autism include:

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  • Discrete Trial Training - learning is achieved by breaking down the learning into simple actions then correct actions are supported with positive reinforcement while incorrect actions are ignored. The child learns through trial and error and the use of positive reinforcement.
  • Pivotal Response Training - this training aims at improving three main areas of behavior, monitoring their own behavior, initiating interaction with others, and motivation to learn. The idea behind PRT is to improve these areas so behavior in all areas will improve.
  • Verbal Behavior Intervention - VBI or verbal behavior intervention focuses on nothing but verbal skills, by building better verbal skills, autistic children learn to communicate better and this improves all other skill by enhancing learning.

Early testing and diagnosis leads to the best outcome for those with autism spectrum disorders because they will benefit from the extra attention to learning they will receive. The longer it takes to diagnose autism, the longer it takes to implement special learning programs for them. The delay in intensive help with learning to speak, walk, and interact with others only reinforces the developmental delays they are experiencing.

With early testing and diagnosis, children with autism will receive the help they need when they need it most. Analyzing how these children learn is important to creating learning environments that will support and reinforce their early learning. The more they learn the better the prognosis for independent life.

Outcome of Early Detection

For many children with autism spectrum disorder, early detection provides a stable foundation for providing early intervention. Autism spectrum disorder may also have medical problems associated with it such as epilepsy and sleep disturbances. Both medical problems can lead to compounded learning and developmental delays. A child who does not get the proper amount of sleep will be less likely to benefit from educational interventions and this is also true for those who suffer from epilepsy.

Early detection improves the outcome for developmental delays and social communication problems by allowing for treatment of the medical problems that may be present and affecting these other symptoms adversely. Receiving early treatment for medical conditions associated with autism will give the child a better outcome when receiving early intervention for neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems.

The longer it takes for a diagnosis, the longer it takes for the child to get that chance to learn. Poor sleep leads to emotional compromises that would otherwise not exist. It is difficult for children without autism to concentrate and focus when they lack proper sleep and it is even more difficult for children with autism to focus. Providing an early diagnosis will lead to finding other medical issues earlier.

Children with autism have cognitive problems that must be understood for them to benefit from any type of learning. When a child is diagnosed, their cognitive problems can be relayed to teachers, giving teachers the ability to recognize and work with these cognitive problems sooner. Implementing special teaching techniques and other early intervention such as dietary changes and medical treatment of secondary ailments only strengthens the chance that children with autism will have positive reactions to behavioral modification.

What is Optimal Outcome?

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Optimal outcome is the best outcome possible for children diagnosed with autism. Recovery is the absolute best outcome, but this is a controversial outcome. Some believe those who recover were misdiagnosed and never had autism to begin with, other say recovery is possible. One thing both sides agree on is optimal outcome is possible with early detection and early intervention.

Optimal outcome is the ability of someone with autism to take care of themselves and live an independent life. Depending on the severity of symptoms, many individuals with autism go on to live independently. Early testing, diagnosis and intervention provides the best chance at an optimal outcome. Some individuals go on to work and gain financial independence as well as have the ability to maintain positive social relationships.

Autism spectrum disorders vary, and those who are high functioning usually do well and have optimal outcomes. But others on the spectrum can have the same success with the right team of professionals behind them. You can ensure the best outcome by screening early and testing when screening requires it.

Optimal outcome is directly related to autism testing at an early age. Although screening toddlers may not provide immediate answers, it does raise awareness that there may be developmental problems present, and this opens the door to more testing and the earliest possible diagnosis. If you think your child may have autism, get them screened and tested as soon as possible.

It is also a good idea for family members to find emotional support for themselves. It can be difficult to care for a child with autism and finding a caring therapist can make a difference when times are trying. The best possible outcome, the optimal outcome depends as much on you as it does on the teachers, and specialists working with your child. Don't ignore your needs, they matter you and your child.

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