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Can a Child Display Autistic Traits and Still Not Be Autistic?

Jun 7, 2008
With it featuring so heavily in the media (and rightly so) a fear that many parents hold is the possibility that their child or children may be diagnosed with autism. However, before jumping to conclusions should you observe some symptoms or traits of autism in your child, it is important to get a professional diagnosis and to look carefully into that diagnosis to make certain that there isn't something else causing the autistic behaviors to occur. There are a number of other health problems and disorders that are commonly misinterpreted and misdiagnosed as autism.

Misdiagnosis of autism can occur among the various autism spectrum disorders, or it can be connected to a completely unrelated condition. Parents should make sure to share all observations and considerations with the child's doctor so that possible alternate diagnoses the appropriate attention.

There are five conditions within the autism spectrum, and each of them can easily be mistaken for another. These are:

1. Rett's Syndrome - this is a condition found only in girls which was discovered back in 1966. It is currently believed by scientists that this is not an inherited condition, but is the result of a random genetic mutation. Symptoms of Rett's Syndrome do not become apparent in babies until 6 to 18 months of age. When Rett's Syndrome starts to become apparent, the development of the baby begins to slow and their heads no longer grow in a normal way. Normal speech does not develop and repetitive hand movements, unusual walking patterns, and torso shaking begin. Children with Rett's Syndrome also frequently experience seizures, breathing problems, rigid muscles, retarded growth, and other health issues.

2. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder - this disorder almost always occurs in boys, and is extremely rare. Until the age of about 42 months, the child appears to be normal, but a dramatic linguistic and social skill loss then occurs. The child may also start experiencing seizures and lose bladder and bowel control. Typically, these children experience low intellectual development. CDD is the easiest of the autism spectrum disorders for doctors to diagnose.

3. Autism - Autism itself is often referred to as Classic Autism, Kanner's Autism, or Early Infantile Autism. Until its recognition in the 1940's, children with autism had been diagnosed as emotionally disturbed or mentally retarded. Autistic children show many different kinds of symptoms that also occur in other physical and mental disorders, making it easy to misdiagnose. Among them are issues with sensory integration and information processing, leading to a series of different kinds of behaviors.

4. Asperger's Syndrome - Asperger's Syndrome children are frequently mistaken for children with high-functioning autism. The syndrome does not typically present itself until after three years of age, as these children tend not to show any issues with language acquisition and use. Instead, they commonly form extreme interests in narrow subjects, and are often known for frequent (though not universal) ability to recite full book texts or movie lines, as well as a seemingly endless line of trivial facts. Some autism-like traits may present themselves, such as the desire for a strict routine, a struggle with social interactions and communication, and an inclination toward repetitive behaviors. Some also struggle with vocal control.

5. Pervasive Development Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified) - PDD/NOS symptoms are difficult to classify. This portion of the autism spectrum is essentially used as a "catch-all" diagnosis for children who present symptoms of autism that cannot be contained by the other four autism spectrum disorders.

Beyond the autism spectrum disorder, other disorders and health problems that can often cause children to display autistic traits - though they don't actually have autism - are:

- Deafness or hearing loss - children who have a difficulty hearing may have impaired social responses, causing them to behave in ways similar to some autistic behaviors.

- Schizophrenia - though some symptoms of this disorder are similar to those of autism, schizophrenia normally presents much later in life than autism.

- Language delay, language disorder, or speech delay - children with linguistic disorders and delays can experience social impairments as a result of their inability to express themselves.

- Developmental delay or mental retardation - behaviors of developmentally delayed or mentally retarded children frequently mimic those of autistic children, but for completely different reasons. Before the discovery of autism as a disorder many autistic children were regarded as mentally retarded.

As there are so many different symptoms of autism and the disorder never presents the same way from person to person, it is easy to misdiagnose disorders both inside and outside the spectrum as being autism. This is especially prevalent among the various autism spectrum disorders.
About the Author
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