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Getting an ASD Diagnosis

Article: Parental Report of the Diagnostic Process and Outcome: ASD Compared with Other Developmental Disabilities. By Oswald and others. In Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 2017, 32 (2).

The short summary of findings in this article is that even though parents raise concerns about Autism with health care providers earlier, they tend to receive a diagnosis later than parents of children with other developmental disabilities.

This is a problem for several reasons. First, lots of parents in the study reported feeling brushed off or dismissed by their healthcare provider. Many parents reported, as well, that their healthcare provider recommended they take their concerns about development up with the child's school. The second problem (among many) is that early intervention is crucial for successful treatment. If diagnosis is being unnecessarily delayed, then outcomes are being compromised and potentially limited.

I hate to pick on them, but it is not hard to guess that the healthcare provider referred to is the child's pediatrician. Feeling like you are getting the brushoff from your physician is not limited to parents with ASD concerns. In fact, people reporting feeling dismissed by their physician is hugely predictive of future malpractice lawsuits. This is an issue the medical community has known about for a long time, and is reportedly trying to remedy.

What can you as the parents do while the medical community is getting up to speed? I highly encourage people to advocate heavily for themselves in the doctor's office. If you feel like you are being dismissed, it is reasonable for you to say something like, "I feel like you are dismissing my concerns and not taking me seriously." You may quote me. People who report reluctance to say such things to their doctor also report that they feel like their doctor is better than them, or special in some way. I can assure you this is not the truth. You are not just the patient, but the client. Their job would not exist without you, so technically, you are probably more important than them; but let us just agree that we are all equal.

What would be reasonable for a pediatrician to do in the case that parents bring concerns about ASD and the pediatrician does not feel they can immediately make a referral for an assessment (for whatever reason)? The pediatrician can schedule to see the child in a month to see if things have changed. Children are dynamic, and especially young children move rapidly through development. Unfortunately, the group surveyed for this research article reported waiting an average of almost 3 years from the point they initially reported concerns to the time they finally received the diagnosis. It does not take 3 years to note trends in development for children with ASD.

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