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The Autism Diagnosis Process: What to Expect

When it comes to parenting, the unknown can be one of the hardest parts. Worries creep in if you suspect something’s wrong with your child’s development. If you think your child may be showing signs of autism, there’s no guidebook to tell you what to do next.

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed. The process gets easier when you know what to expect.

If you’ve found your way to this post, you’ve likely taken the first step: questioning whether your child shows signs of autism.

Recognizing this possibility is a significant and sometimes challenging move. Rest assured, you’re not alone. This guide is here to provide you with valuable insights and support as you navigate through this process.

Understanding Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects how a person interacts, learns, and behaves. Everyone on the spectrum is different. Signs of autism usually start showing up when a child is very young.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Autism symptoms can be different for everyone. If your child is not growing or learning like other kids their age, or if they have any of the following signs, you might want to talk to your pediatrician:

  • Not smiling at others by six months
  • Not gesturing or pointing to communicate by 12 months
  • Not babbling by 12 months
  • Not using single words like “no,” “mama,” “dada” by 16 months
  • Not using two-word phrases like “want cup,” “go play” by 24 months
  • Not responding to sounds, voices, or their own name by three years
  • Poor eye contact by three years
  • Little interest in other children or caretakers by three years
  • Losing skills they once had at any point by three years

The Diagnosis Process

Getting a diagnosis of autism starts with an evaluation. Experts will examine how a child behaves and will look at their past development. If your child’s pediatrician thinks it might be autism, they’ll send your child to an expert for a closer look. This process includes:

  • A parent interview
  • Review of medical, psychological, and school records
  • Assessment of cognitive, developmental, and adaptive functioning skills
  • Observation of your child during play

What Happens Next?

After an autism evaluation, our team of specialists will review and interpret the results. If your child is diagnosed with autism, our team will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan. This plan includes therapies to help improve communication, social skills, and behavior.

At LEARN, we work with families on a plan tailored to your family’s needs. We will adjust the treatment plan as needed. We’ll also provide you with resources and support.

Whether you’re just noticing signs or you’re already deep into the diagnosis process, our team is here to help. We know that recognizing and diagnosing autism can be challenging. But with the right support and guidance, you can navigate it confidently.

Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin, Learning Center Opening

Mount Pleasant Learning Center: Specialized Autism Therapy in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Early Autism Project (WEAP) and Total Spectrum proudly announce the successful opening of the Mount Pleasant Learning Center.

The Learning Center, which focuses on providing specialized and comprehensive applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy services for children with autism, officially opened on March 20.

It’s a place that fosters learning, socialization, and independence for children on the autism spectrum.

Tailored Treatment for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“At our Mount Pleasant location, we hope to bring families in the Greater Racine County area compassionate, contemporary ABA therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder,” Linda Klotz, WEAP’s clinical director, said at the opening event.

“With a focus on tailored treatment, this new Learning Center offers individualized interventions to meet the specific needs and interests of each learner,” she said. “We couldn’t be more excited to open our doors to the community and provide these necessary services.”

Partnership Focuses on Helping Kids with Autism Thrive

Operated jointly by WEAP and Total Spectrum, organizations with a combined 35 years of experience serving children with autism across Wisconsin, the Mount Pleasant Learning Center provides a holistic approach to assessment, diagnosis, and treatment to help children achieve their full potential.

The grand opening of the Mount Pleasant Learning Center allowed families to meet key members of the leadership team and featured participation from the local community, tours of the facility, and spring-themed activities for families.

“In Kenosha, we’re honored to be included at such a great event,” Kenosha Chamber of Commerce President Dave Strash said at the opening. “We are all about the business community celebrating business successes, and one of our favorite things to do is a ribbon cutting — especially celebrating a much-needed service like the one you guys are providing to the community goes beyond words.”

To find out more about the Mount Pleasant Learning Center, visit https://wiautism.com/blog/tour-our-mt-pleasant-aba-therapy-learning-center

Self-Care and Sensory Needs for Neurodivergent Individuals

Dr. Megan Anna Neff, a Neurodivergent Psychologist joins us to discuss discovering her own autism in the aftermath of her child’s diagnosis and how that has inspired her passion to support the neurodivergent community. Dr. Neff describes the experience of her autism revelation in this way, “For the first time in my life, my body made sense, my experience of self made sense, and it was a powerful moment of liberation.” We also delve into helpful strategies about sensory sensitivity and self-care that are helpful for adults and parents of children with autism.

For more information:

neurodivergentinsights.com

@neurodivergent_insights on Instagram

All Autism Talk (https://www.allautismtalk.com/) is sponsored by LEARN Behavioral (https://learnbehavioral.com).

How ABA Therapy Helped Our Children Succeed: Insights from Two BCBA Moms


In this informative video, two Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) moms, Heather and Trisha, share their personal experiences with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy and how it has helped their children succeed. For more information about our ABA Therapy services, visit: https://lrnbvr.com/yt-aba-moms

Total Spectrum Opens New Learning Center in Portage, MI

We’re proud to announce the expansion of our services in Michigan with the opening of a new Total Spectrum Learning Center in Portage this past March. This center is a testament to our commitment to providing children with autism the resources and support they need to develop essential life skills in a nurturing, group environment. Our mission is to empower children with autism and other special needs to achieve success in school and life, and we’re dedicated to providing contemporary and compassionate applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy to help them achieve their goals.

The Total Spectrum Learning Center in Portage is designed to offer a learning-rich atmosphere that caters to the unique needs of each child. Our center-based services are complemented by home and community-based services that offer flexible scheduling options. We understand that every child has individualized needs and aspirations, and we’re committed to providing a comprehensive range of services that cater to those needs.

To celebrate the opening of our new facility, we hosted an open house where families were invited to tour our state-of-the-art facility, engage with our leadership team, and participate in a range of fun, spring-themed activities. It was a joyous occasion that brought the autism community in Portage and throughout Michigan together. The event was topped off with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was organized in collaboration with the Southwest Michigan First Chamber of Commerce.

Our dedication to serving the autism community is unwavering, and we’re proud to have served children with autism for over a decade. Our commitment to the well-being of our clients has allowed us to emerge as one of the leading providers of ABA therapy in the country. We take immense pride in our work and are committed to continuing to provide the highest quality of care to our clients.

If you’re interested in learning more about our services or finding a Total Spectrum location near you, please visit our website. We look forward to continuing to serve the autism community in Portage, throughout Michigan, and across the Midwest.

Autism Spectrum Therapies (AST) Opens New Learning Center in Chandler, AZ

We’re thrilled to announce our Arizona services expanded this March, as we opened a new AST Learning Center in Chandler. This newest center, which boasts state-of-the-art facilities, held an open house where families were invited to tour the facility, converse with our leadership team, and take part in a range of fun, spring-themed activities. The event was topped off with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was organized in collaboration with the Chandler Chamber of Commerce.

At AST, we’re committed to providing children with autism the support and resources they need to develop essential life skills in a nurturing, group environment. Our latest facility in Chandler is no exception. The center is designed to offer a learning-rich atmosphere that caters to the unique needs of every child. Our comprehensive range of center-based services is complemented by home and community-based services that offer flexible scheduling options.

We take immense pride in serving the autism community in Chandler, throughout Arizona, and across our seven other states. Our mission is to empower children with autism and other special needs to achieve success in school and life. We understand that every child has individualized needs and aspirations, and we’re committed to providing compassionate and contemporary applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy to help them achieve their goals.

We’re honored to have served children with autism for over two decades. Our unwavering commitment to the wellbeing of our clients has allowed us to emerge as one of the leading providers of ABA therapy in the country. If you want to learn more about our services or find an AST location near you, click here.

Myth: Autistic People Lack Empathy

Katherine Johnson. M.S., BCBA
Senior Director of Partnerships, LEARN Behavioral

Note: This article is about a form of ableism that affects one part of the autistic community: autistic people who are proficient verbal communicators. Those who communicate with AAC devices, typing, sign, or who don’t yet have the communication skills to engage with the wider world face other forms of ableism and discrimination not described in this article. 

The Double Empathy Problem

Remember the game “telephone”? One person whispers a message to another, that person whispers to the next, and on down the line until the last person announces the message so everyone can laugh at how many times the original sentence has been distorted. 

Using a variation of this exercise, a study looked at how a message fared if the string of people in the telephone line were all autistic, all neurotypical, or a mix of both. It turns out that the rate at which the message degraded among the verbal autistic people was no greater than that of the neurotypical people.  It was only when the message was sent through a mix of autistic and neurotypical people that the meaning deteriorated significantly faster. 

What does this tell us? 

If effective social communication was objectively deficient (not just different) in verbal autistic people, we would expect that the all-autistic string of people would produce the worst decline in messages in the study; that wasn’t the finding. Instead, the autistic people received and passed along messages amongst themselves just as well as the neurotypical people. The faulty communication resulted not from the autistic participants but from the mismatch between autistic and neurotypical communication.  

This small study illustrates a theory by Dr. Damian Milton that he calls the “double empathy problem.” Challenging the assumption that neurotypical people have social skills that autistic people simply lack, he posits that the disconnects between autistic and non-autistic people are not the result of a one-sided skill deficit; they are instead a mismatch of neurotypes.

Reframing

This is a dramatic reframing of the common belief about these communication breakdowns, which placed the fault squarely on the social skill profile of the autistic folks. The “empathy” part of the theory’s name refers to the widely-held idea that autistic people lack empathy, when the theory would suggest that autistic empathy is simply expressed differently. Slowly but surely, researchers are beginning to look at that other side of the coin: how the social skill profiles of neurotypical people might also undermine relationships.   

For years, research has demonstrated that autistic people have difficulty interpreting facial expressions; a 2016 study finally looked at the reverse. They asked neurotypical people to interpret facial expressions of autistic folks – and they were unable to do it. The results of a series of studies in 2017 suggest that one reason people of different neurotypes have difficulty connecting is because neurotypical people form negative first impressions of autistic people (based upon appearance, not conversational skills), and subsequently avoid them. This indicates that some of the social isolation that autistic people face is due to ableism and discrimination.  

Missing Out

The difficulties autistic and non-autistic people have connecting negatively impact both sides. Since autistic people are in the minority, disconnection from the neurotypical portion of their community can increase their feelings of loneliness and isolation. For its part, the neurotypical world is missing out on the unique, often innovative, autistic perspective. 

Autistic people who have had huge cultural impacts on our society (environmental activist Greta Thunberg, actor Dan Akroyd, and Pokemon creator Santoshi Tajiri, to name a few) have had success in spite of a society that is largely unsupportive of and, at times, openly hostile to, the social profile of autistic folks. Imagine what brilliance we miss out on when autistic people are looked over, avoided, not hired, etc.  

Even those who are not destined to become one of the famous few mentioned above have a perspective that can deeply impact those around them. Autistic people see the world from different angles, which can be an advantage in everyday problem-solving. They generally have a strong sense of justice, an unwillingness to be cowed by hierarchy, and a drive for honesty, sincerity, and specificity, all beneficial qualities in social relationships and the workplace.

Expanding Neurotypical Empathy

The solution to the separation between people of different neurotypes has largely been to teach autistic people how to understand the rest of the world better. But by considering the double-empathy problem, we can see that this is only part of the issue. The other part is that non-autistic people also have skill deficits: interpreting and interacting with autistic people. 

Just as history is written by the winners, social norms are written by the majority. If we want to work toward a future where people of all neurotypes better understand one another, we must listen to the experiences of the minority. It’s important to recognize that neurotypical “social norms” exist because they’re most common, not because they are inherently superior. These dominant “social norms” directly result from how neurotypical people think, behave, and process the world. 

“Empathy” is about understanding another person’s experience. Ironically, to succeed in our society, autistic people must display empathy nearly constantly: decoding others’ unwritten rules and learning to approach the world in a way that works for others. To bridge the divide, nurture the gifts of the autistic people in our society, and for everyone to benefit from the valuable perspectives of the neurodivergent, those with neurotypical brains must follow this example. By challenging themselves to work toward understanding and adapting to the way autistic people see and experience the world, neurotypical folks can open themselves up to new friends with an intense devotion to honesty. Employers will find innovative autistic employees with rare specializations and a knack for accuracy. And society will benefit from recognizing and celebrating the valuable and previously underappreciated gifts of the autistic mind. 

Damian E.M. Milton (2012) On the ontological status of autism: the ‘double empathy problem’, Disability & Society, 27:6, 883-887, DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2012.710008

Sheppard, E., Pillai, D., Wong, G.TL. et al. How Easy is it to Read the Minds of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder?. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 1247–1254 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2662-8

Sasson, N., Faso, D., Nugent, J. et al. Neurotypical Peers are Less Willing to Interact with Those with Autism based on Thin Slice Judgments. Sci Rep 7, 40700 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep40700

Autism Spectrum Therapies (AST) Opens New Learning Center in Bakersfield, CA

With over 20 years of experience providing compassionate, contemporary ABA Therapy to children with autism, we’re delighted to share that we opened a new AST Learning Center this December in Bakersfield, CA. The new center held an open house that included an official ribbon-cutting with their local Chamber of Commerce and opportunities for families to tour the facility, speak with the leadership team, and participate in fun activities. This new location offers a supportive, learning-rich environment where children with autism can work on individual skills in a group setting.

We couldn’t be more excited to support more families in the communities we serve. To learn more about where our services are located, find a location.

A Closer Look at The BHCOE

Dr. Ellie Kazemi is the Chief Science Officer at Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (BHCOE), an accrediting organization focused on improving the quality of behavior analytic services. She is also a professor at CSUN, where she founded the M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program. Dr. Kazemi joins us to share about the accreditation process and the importance of assessments and measuring outcomes in the field of ABA. As Dr. Kazemi discusses the value of connecting the perspectives of the families and the clients, and shares, “To measure outcomes you should see progress from different perspectives”. 

For More Information: 

https://www.bhcoe.org/

All Autism Talk is sponsored by Learn Behavioral.