Before the diagnosis


For many families, the identification of a child’s disability is a gradual process that occurs over many months or years. For some children, a clear diagnosis of a specific condition or disability (or multiple disabilities) is possible. For others, the diagnosis may not be possible or may be reliant on further tests/ observations in future years.

Our role as educators is to support families by communicating with them about their child’s progress towards learning outcomes and their overall development.

How families respond to our concerns with depend on our relationships we have built with our families and how much we understand their perspective, concerns, beliefs and culture.

Some families are relieved when we notice, some will be finding it challenging to come to terms with the diagnosis, some won’t believe us, some won’t help us and some will take immediate action to get outside assistance.

However, just because the child doesn’t have a diagnosis it doesn’t mean we can’t start trialling strategies to help them.

Before we start we need to remember some important points:

  • No two children are alike, what works for one probably won’t work for the other
  • There is no magic bullet. This takes time and lots and lots of hard thinking and planning
  • Just because one strategy didn’t work doesn’t mean you should give up. Professionals need to test and trial 20 – 30 strategies before they make a break through
  • Remove your adult concept of behaviour and think outside the box. Critically reflect on the situation with brainstorming ideas. Think the weirdest thoughts, causes and solutions, because they are the ones most likely to work

We need to do something until parents are ready to seek professional help.

Some of the following may be the early indicators of autism. However, it is important to note that no single indicator necessarily signals autism – usually a child would present with several indicators from some of the following categories:

  • Behaviour
  • Sensory
  • Communication
  • Social Skills
  • Play

The following is only a guide to what a child should typically be doing at 18 – 24 months of age:

  • Shows interest in his / her siblings or peers
  • Brings you items to show you
  • Follows your gaze to locate an object when you point
  • Engages in “pretend play” (e.g. feeding a doll or making a toy dog bark)
  • Uses many spontaneous single words and some-two word phrases

The effects of autism can often be minimised by early diagnosis and with the right interventions, many children and adults with autism show marked improvements.

There is only one diagnostic category under DSM-5. The diagnosis – autism – replaces the three previous autism diagnostic categories of Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified.


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