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How do health care providers diagnose Asperger syndrome?

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If you have concerns about your child's development, talk the child's health care provider right away. The provider can examine the child and check for specific problems, such as Asperger syndrome.

Routine Developmental Screening

Your child's health care provider will check for problems with development at every well-baby and well-child visit. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that health care providers do a specific check for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) at the 18-month and 24-month visits.

During these developmental screenings, the health care provider may:

  • Ask you specific questions about your child's activities and behavior
  • Ask you to fill out a questionnaire about your child's behavior
  • Speak directly to the child

Specialized Screening for ASDs

It is difficult for health care providers to diagnose Asperger syndrome because no single, standard screening tool exists. Instead, different doctors use different screening tools, each with different criteria for diagnosis. For this reason, it is possible for the same child to receive different diagnoses, depending on the screening tool used.

Currently, doctors are uncertain whether Asperger syndrome is a mild form of classic autism or whether it is a separate disorder. Some who consider Asperger syndrome to be a form of autism call it "high-functioning autism."

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) provides guidelines most health care providers use to diagnose ASD and Asperger syndrome. Because many health care providers have a hard time telling Asperger syndrome apart from other ASDs, the American Psychiatric Association is considering doing away with the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. Instead, under the new guidelines, people who have symptoms of Asperger syndrome would receive a diagnosis of ASD without language delays. The new policy would go into effect when a new version of the DSM is published in 2013. The current version of the DSM considers Asperger syndrome, autistic disorder, and their related disorders to fall into the diagnostic category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). PDDs are also referred to as ASDs.

Most doctors look for a core set of behaviors to help identify whether a child has Asperger syndrome:

  • Unusual or no eye contact
  • Seeming detached around other people or children
  • Not turning when called by name
  • Not using body language to point or show
  • No interest in other children, which may be shown by a lack of interest in playing with them

Problems in at least one of the areas affected by Asperger syndrome (difficulty with developing social skills, or repetitive behavior and restricted interests) must be present by the time the child is 3 years old for the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome to be made.

If doctors suspect Asperger syndrome, they will send the child to a team of specialists who are experts in diagnosing the syndrome. The specialists will give the child tests and activities and will observe and assess the child's behavior and communication ability before making a diagnosis.1,2,3,4,5

  1. Myers, S. M., & Johnson, C. P.; American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities. (2007). Management of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics, 120, 1162-1182. [top]
  2. Johnson, C. P., & Myers, S. M. (2007). American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities. Identification and evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics, 120, 1183-1215. [top]
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2006). Identifying infants and young children with developmental disorders in the medical home: An algorithm for developmental screening and surveillance. Pediatrics, 118, 405-420. [top]
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders - 4th ed. Washington, DC: Author. [top]
  5. Lord, C., & Jones, R. M. (2012). Annual Research Review: Re-thinking the classification of autism spectrum disorders. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53(5), 490-509. [top]

Last Updated Date: 11/30/2012
Last Reviewed Date: 11/30/2012
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