“How do I know if I have autism?” is a question asked by many parents and family members of children who have been diagnosed with the condition. While a definitive cause is yet to be discovered, most scientists agree that there is a genetic component, and it is common for family members to notice particular traits that exist in parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, that are similar, if less severe, then those included in the diagnosis of the child.
Many parents have wondered about this as they surf the internet, looking for more information on the condition their child has been recently diagnosed with. The rising rate of diagnosis has been linked to many causes, none of which have been verified at this time, but most experts agree that increased sensitivity to the behavioral symptoms of autism have contributed to the rise.
Finding a diagnosis can be tricky, however. It can still be difficult to obtain a diagnosis for a child, even with increased awareness and training for pediatricians looking for early signs, and for an adult who is struggling with similar challenges, it can be even harder. Much of the information regarding diagnosis on web sites such as the Autism Society of America or Autism Speaks is geared towards early identification. Information on adults tends to be geared towards employment, housing and self-advocacy, rather than towards individuals who suspect as adults that they may also be on the autism spectrum. The National Autistic Society of the United Kingdom does offer information for adults who are seeking a diagnosis on their web page.
The process can be even more difficult for females, who tend to present differently than the typical male profile that is widely understood by the medical community. Tania Marshall, author of I Am Aspien Girl, specializes in the female profile of autism. She explains that females tend to be under-diagnosed, as they tend to imitate others in social situations. Girls are also less likely to suffer from meltdowns or to act out in school situations. Instead, they tend to the be the “quiet” girls who tend to be overlooked by teachers are peers alike. This “social mask” takes a toll, however, on girls and women who spend their lives pretending to be something they are not in order to fit in to a society that is unfriendly to those who are different. Her website, www.taniamarshall.com, offers many online resources along with a list of professionals from around the world who are trained in the female profile of autism.
For those who are not looking for a formal diagnosis, but who are interested in exploring the possibility that they could have autism, there are various self-tests on the internet. Some of these are more valid than others. A good one to start with is the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, or AQ test, developed by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen. You can find it at http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html. Another resource is Cynthia Kim’s book, I Think I Might be Autistic: A Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis and Self-Discovery for Adults.