Autism: CAN SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST DIAGNOSE AUTISM?

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Kimberly: I have a friend who’s son did not get a medical diagnosis of Autism but is asking for one from the school district. Can a school diagnosis a child with Autism? What does this mean in terms of services or insurance? Is this something you would recommend?

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Core diagnostic criteria for autism include deficient social-adaptive skills and and empathetic ability. The distinction between high-functioning autism (formerly called Asperger Disorder) and Intellectual Limitation (formerly called Mental Retardation) with Autistic features and “incomplete” forms of autism (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – PDD) rests on measures psychologists provide with such testing as IQ, Achievement, Projective testing (measures of mood and emotion) and tests of Social Maturity. The results of such testing will not only define Autism, but distinguish among various subcategories. However, there are medical conditions that masquerade as Autism. So, before psychological testing, underlying physical disorders must be ruled out.

A child psychologist employed by the early childhood intervention program diagnosed our daughter with autism in the 1980s. That diagnosis was accepted by both physicians and educators and enabled her to get various services within the school district (special education, speech therapy, physical therapy). Throughout the years, various doctors have written paperwork confirming the diagnosis of autism based upon their own observations. I don’t know the age of your friend’s child, but if he is very young–perhaps the parents could take him to be evaluated by the school psychologist and follow up with a physician.

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