How do Doctors Diagnose High Level Autism?

High level autism, also known as high-functioning autism (HFA), and Asperger's Syndrome are neurological disorders that affect the ability of sufferers to relate to other people and the world around them. Doctors may suspect autism when children exhibit signs of difficulty with communication or lose ground in skills they have already gained. The process for reaching a diagnosis involves an initial screening and a team of professionals.

Autism usually shows up between three and five years of age, sometimes a bit later. People with HFA and Asperger's have difficulty relating to others, tend to be obsessively interested in targeted subjects, and may be physically clumsy. High level autism often appears as intense social awkwardness, and many people with this disorder are not diagnosed until they are adults. A hearing or other medical problem can sometimes mimic initial symptoms of autism, so regular well-child checkups are important.

Doctors use specially developed screening instruments such as the 15-point evaluation scale Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), the toddler screening tool Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (CHAT), and the 40-point Autism Screening Questionnaire for children four and older. These tests measure the child’s responses to people and both verbal and non-verbal communication levels. High level autism will show different results than a more severe form.

If the tests indicate a possible problem, the doctor will most likely make a referral to a autism spectrum disorders specialist. The specialist will assemble a team of diagnosticians, probably including a psychiatrist, a neurologist, a physical therapist, and other professionals skilled at evaluating both low and high level autism. A social worker may be included to function as a case manager and to steer parents toward needed resources.

The comprehensive testing includes, but is not limited to, checking motor functions, IQ, learning style, language patterns, and conversational elements, such as clarity and coherence. If the child exhibits at least six or more signs of Asperger’s or HFA from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM IV), high level autism may be suspected. Additional medical tests, such as an electroencephalograph (EEG) or metabolic screening, may be performed to assist diagnosticians.

Children with high level autism are capable of coping with their problems, but early intervention is key. Social skills training, speech and language therapy, and parent participation in behavioral techniques used at home can help children become more socially adept. Adults with Aspergers’s and HFA can work and live fulfilling lives with continued support.


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