Autism spectrum disorders cover a wide span of conditions and symptoms, from severe mental retardation to mild social impairment, making a quick definitive diagnosis difficult. It wasn’t until 1980 that autism became an official clinical diagnosis, separate from childhood schizophrenia or retardation.
Dr. Catherine Karni, associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center and medical director of outpatient services at the Center for Pediatric Psychiatry at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, says patients often display a distinctive pattern of symptoms rather than just one. The main characteristics include impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication, restricted interests and repetitive behavior. Parents are usually the first to notice the unusual behaviors, while pediatricians initially hear their concerns.
“Autism cannot be diagnosed with a simple diagnostic test,” Dr. Karni says. “Having a team of specialists conduct specific assessments means there is a better chance for children to be diagnosed correctly and for the right treatments to be enacted. Many parents take their child to a pediatrician because the child is not talking. But there are many possibilities for this behavior. Autism is only one.”
Visit http://www.utsouthwestern.org/mentalhealth to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in mental health.
April is National Autism Awareness Month.
Media Contact: Erin Prather Stafford