If you have any concerns about your child, it is important that you consult with a medical professional who is experienced in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Hopefully, you will have worried needlessly. But if not, it is important that you have a diagnosis as early as possible, in order to access services. Research shows that early and intensive treatment works best in helping these children make sense of their world. The earlier a child is started on a course of treatment, the better the prognosis. However, research also shows that our brains have neuroplasticity, which means that they continue to reorganize themselves by forming new neural connections throughout life. So, no matter the age, learning can still take place, and parents of older children should not be discouraged from trying different approaches to help their child.
If you are an adult and think you may have an ASD, just knowing there are others like you can bring an extra dimension to your life. Perhaps exchanging information on skills you have developed to handle situations that are hard for you can be helpful.
People in the past were hesitant about applying a label because they felt that the label of autism was permanent and signified that there was no hope for that person. This should no longer be the case. In fact, since 1994, ASD are now classified as pervasive developmental disorders, reflecting the medical profession's belief that intervention can lead to improvement and sometimes recovery.
Your Label to Use or Not
Having an ASD diagnosed can open doors for you that would otherwise be closed. Your child may be eligible for early intervention services and therapies from local agencies and treatment under medical insurance. It will also allow the parent and professional to search out more knowledge on what to do, using the label as a starting point to gather information. However, you must remember that you, as the parent or the person with an ASD, own the label. It is up to you to use it or disclose it when it is helpful, or not to use it if you are uncomfortable doing so, or if you feel it is not helpful or necessary. It is your information and your choice.
Be aware also that over time, the diagnostic criteria change, and the opinion of the experts as to what those criteria should be differs as well. So although a diagnosis is helpful and necessary to access services, as a parent you would do better to focus on the behavioral characteristics that tell you more about the child and how to help him than to get hung up on the diagnosis and what it means.
Sometimes it may take a long while for an official diagnosis to be reached. You will need the diagnosis to access services from government agencies; however, as a parent there are things you can be doing to help your child while you are waiting. Read chapter 6, on family life, for suggestions in this area. This is also a good time to be doing your own research.
Keep in mind that each person is unique, whether he or she has an ASD or not, as Jerry Newport (an adult with Asperger's) reminds us with the title of his book: Your Life Is Not a Label.