Distinguishing autism in children versus sensory processing disorder (SPD) or other conditions with similar signs and symptoms is absolutely crucial.

In the past, there has been limited understanding of autism as well as SPD, but with recent advances, there are medical practitioners who specialise in both fields, making accurate diagnosis possible.

Autism / sensory processing disorder - Educare Centre Cape Town

What is Autism in Children?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a disorder that affects the development of children and is most commonly characterised by difficulties with social interactions, communication as well as a display of repetitive or restricted patterns of thought and behaviour.

Although ASD usually presents itself in early childhood, adults can also be diagnosed with it. Furthermore, due to the nature of ASD, some people may have symptoms so mild that they are barely noticeable, while others have a severe enough form of ASD that it affects their entire lives.

Symptoms of Autism in Children

Children with ASD will show remarkably different symptoms, based on their type of autism as well as where it is on the spectrum.

Either way, autism symptoms can be placed into the following categories but are not limited to:

General Social Challenges

  • Abnormal way of expressing emotions
  • Feeling easily overwhelmed in social situations
  • Difficulty with gauging personal space and boundaries
  • Abnormal way of seeking emotional comfort from others – either refusing to receive comfort or demanding comfort from someone
  • Not engaging in play with other children

Communicational Challenges

Children with ASD may have difficulty with:

  • Eye contact
  • Controlling facial expressions
  • Controlling tone of voice
  • Verbal communication

Repetitive and Restrictive Behaviour

  • Serious need for routine and structure with extreme disliking towards surprises or impulsive decisions which result in a deviation from their normal daily activities
  • Repetitive body movements such as running back and forth, rocking or spinning around
  • Ritualistic behaviour such as touching certain objects in a specific order or lining up objects in the same way
  • Extreme or restricted interest in certain topics or activities

Autism vs Sensory Processing Disorder

Based on the symptoms presented by children with sensory processing disorder, it’s easy to see how SPD can be misdiagnosed as autism.

Although the symptoms in each disorder are extremely similar, there are clear distinctions between the two which can be identified by the appropriate medical practitioner.

Diagnosing Autism in Children

Selecting the appropriate medical professional is critical in ensuring the diagnosis given to your child is accurate.

A comprehensive series of tests should first be carried out by a team of experts before proceeding with any form of medical treatment.

If you suspect a misdiagnosis, you can ask your doctors the following questions:

Please refer me to a specialist

Don’t settle with a diagnosis given by your general practitioner. GPs are not trained in these specialist fields and should not be treating autism without first referring you to the relevant specialists.

You can ask your GP to refer you to neurologists, speech therapists and psychologists to name a few.

Have you checked my child’s hearing?

Speech development issues can often be caused by hearing problems.

A proper hearing analysis to determine whether or not your child has a hearing problem should be on your checklist of tests before accepting ASD as the final diagnosis.

Are there other therapies we can try?

There are several forms of therapies which don’t include medication and can be hugely successful in the treatment of conditions often confused with ASD.

These therapies include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Play therapy
  • Hippotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy

Should these therapies prove successful, it's likely that your child does not have ASD but rather other forms of developmental, physical or neurological issues which can be easily managed with the appropriate treatment and therapy.

Insist on early intervention

As a parent, you have certain instincts and you should follow them. Some doctors will tell you to give it time as children develop at different paces.

However, early intervention is critical in ensuring your child has a quality life as the earlier they are accurately diagnosed, the more comprehensive and effective their treatment will be.

Kay-Dee Educare Centre Mowbray

We are a passionate team of individuals who take early childhood development seriously. Our curriculum focuses on nurturing your child’s developmental process.

Accurate diagnosis of autism in children will help you develop the right approach to ensuring your child lives a quality life.

For more information about our educare programme for children with special needs, contact us.