Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children: Screening and Diagnosis

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by impairments in communication, behaviour, and social function. This impairment begins in childhood and have varying levels of severity.

According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that one in 100 children have autism. This figure is an average, and the reported prevalence varies from study to study. However, figures that are significantly higher have been reported by well-controlled studies.

What are the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder includes:

Impairment in social interaction (includes impairment in use of non-verbal behaviours)

  • Making inconsistent eye contact.
  • Not looking or listening to people when talking.
  • Not responding to smiles.
  • Facial expressions, body postures, and gestures do not match what is being said.

Impairment in communication

  • Delay or total lack of speech development.
  • Impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversion with others.
  • Slowness in responding or not responding to their name.

Restricted, repetitive, and stereotype pattern, behaviour, interests, activities

  • Displaying repetitive movements like hand flapping, body rocking.
  • Obsession with certain things or odd play.
  • Sticking to certain rituals before certain activities can be done.

What are the risk factors of Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Risk factors of Autism Spectrum Disorder includes:

  • ASD in a sibling.
  • Having older parents at time of conception.
  • Hereditary genetic conditions (like Down syndrome or Fragile X syndrome).
  • Extremely low birth weight.

How is Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosed?

  1. Developmental Monitoring: Involves an active and ongoing process of observing a child's development and encouraging parents or providers to talk about a child's skills and abilities. 
  2. Developmental Screening:A child’s development is examined closely during developmental screening. Questionnaires and checklists will be allocated to research and compare your child to other children. 
  3. Developmental Diagnosis:A quick screening will be performed to study if a child is on the right path to development or if a specialist should intervene. A formal developmental evaluation may be required if the screening tool identifies a problem.

What is Autism Screening?

There are a total of 5 screening tools which includes:

  • Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ) 
  • Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scales (CSBS)
  • Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS) 
  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT) 
  • Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT)

What happens during an Autism Spectrum Disorder screening?

The doctor may observe the child, perform a structured test, ask questions to the parents, or request that they complete questionnaires.

Your child's strengths and weaknesses will be brought to light in this formal evaluation, which can help determine whether they meet the requirements for a developmental diagnosis.

What are the treatment options for Autism Spectrum Disorder?

  1. Behaviour and Communication Therapies

    Understanding what happens before and after a behaviour is the primary focus of behavioural approaches. Behavioural approaches show the highest treatment for treating ASD symptoms.

  2. Medication

    Medication for specific symptoms may be prescribed by a doctor. With medication, a person with ASD may experience fewer instances of irritability, aggression, hyperactivity, or repetitive behaviour.

  3. Speech Therapy

    The individual's ability to understand and use language is enhanced through speech and language therapy. Some people with ASD communicate while others use signs, gestures, pictures, or an electronic communication device to communicate.

  4. Occupational Therapy

    Skills that enable the patient to live as independently as possible are taught through occupational therapy. These skills include dressing, eating, bathing, and interacting with others.

  5. Educational Therapies

    The Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH) approach is one type of educational strategy. It gives teachers ways to change the structure of the classroom and improve academic and other outcomes.

  6. Family Therapy

    Family Therapy is a type of specialised therapy that only works with people and their families who have autism spectrum disorder. Some of these disorders include Asperger syndrome, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, or other conditions that are related to them.


  • Do vaccines cause autism?

    There have been some concerns that children receiving vaccines may be at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but research has shown that vaccines do not cause autism.

  • What is the difference between Asperger’s and ASD?

    Asperger’s show milder symptoms as compared to ASD. Most children with Asperger’s show good communication skills but may have difficulty to fit in with others, especially in social settings.

  • Book an appointment at Pantai Hospitals

    A dedicated and expert team of specialists at Pantai Hospital is available for consultation to provide the best care and assistance to patients through screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

    Get in touch with us to book an appointment with a Paediatrics specialist if you have any concerns or questions about autism. 

    Pantai Hospital has been accredited by the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) for its commitment to patient safety and service quality.

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