This week’s post tackles the following question:
I would really like to know the pros and cons of getting a diagnosis. My 6 year old has been evaluated by a therapist who suggested Asperger’s, but I have heard good and bad about having a formal diagnosis and would like your opinion.
The importance of having your child evaluated and obtaining a formal diagnosis cannot be stressed enough. A diagnosis of Asperger’s can be very tricky because, for most children, symptoms vary and change over time. Symptoms of various conditions do overlap and patients may have several conditions at the same time.
Regardless of the outcome of an evaluation, having a diagnosis of any illness provides a beginning for parents. If there is an illness or disorder diagnosed, the parent can then obtain a ‘road map’ for coping with or healing the child.
Not only is it important to obtain an early, specific diagnosis from a doctor or therapist, it is also important to obtain a second opinion. Many childhood behaviours mimic one another, and a second opinion is invaluable when assessing a child’s behaviour. Since Asperger’s Syndrome varies greatly from one person to the next, with some having many, serious problems and others having only minor problems, obtaining a second opinion can confirm a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.
Also, it is important to obtain an early diagnosis because early intervention and treatment often lead to greater success. And also, age-appropriate learning proceeds without any unnecessary delay.
Many children with Asperger’s are very intelligent and clever. They are able to cover up difficulties and may not be diagnosed until they are adults. Many adults with Asperger’s Syndrome are very high-functioning people who learn various coping mechanisms on their own. The most widely recognized diagnostic tool for Asperger’s Syndrome is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Known as the DSM, it has the full diagnostic criteria for pervasive developmental disorders such autism and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). A good explanation of the criteria for autism and ADHD can be found at www.childbrain.com website.
As defined in DSM-IV, the most recent revision of the DSM, the criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) follow the same format as for autism. The symptoms are organized by onset, social and emotional, and “restricted interests” criteria, as well as motor deficits and isolated special skills. A final criterion for Asperger’s is the exclusion of other conditions, such as autism itself and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. The child might exhibit behavioural delays or deviant behavioural patterns in multiple areas of functioning.
If diagnosed, it will be helpful to explore resources for your son, such as an Asperger’s specialist who can teach him social skills and help him understand his diagnosis. Assuming that your child is currently in school, the first place to look for help is at school. School counsellors have been trained in teaching learning skills as well as basic techniques of psychology. They maintain a working knowledge of DSM diagnostic criteria, and many of them work closely with doctors and psychiatrists when they are formulating a child’s diagnosis.
Many countries mandate evaluations of all students who may have a disability – of any kind. The evaluation leads to a plan for remediation and assistance. If your child is out of school, find a licensed psychologist (one who has a Ph.D. from an accredited university) to help him and refer him to the resources that are available for people with Asperger’s Syndrome.
All the Best