Importance of Differential Diagnosis

The CDC released data in November 2015 based on parent report survey that estimates the rate of Autism in children is 1 in 48. This is a large increase from the CDC’s data indicating from clinical sources that estimated 1 in 68 children has Autism. This number is a considerable increase from data released only a few years ago. As more families suspect Autism, we are tasked clinically to provide differential diagnoses. As clinicians, we know that it is very important to be accurate in diagnosis because this informs treatment. It is really important to seek a thorough and comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation when Autism is a consideration. Yes, Autism is recognized as an important differential diagnosis when children have challenges in communication, social interactions and behavior. However, Autism can look very different from child to child. Autism is often confused with AD/HD, Mood Disorders, Anxiety and Disorders of Attachment. As treatment can look different for different diagnoses, we must be comprehensive in our evaluations. It is important to be able to accurately “rule in” Autism and to accurately “rule it out.” At times, an Autism Spectrum Disorder may be diagnosed co-morbid with another diagnosis which makes for an even more complex presentation and need for treatment. School teams are mandated to educationally identify Autism Spectrum Disorders in schools and to provide school based supports and services. This is a crucial part of treatment (IEPs and 504 Plans); but is not a clinical diagnosis. A clinical diagnosis can carefully consider differential and co-morbid diagnoses and help families access clinical treatment to meet their child’s needs. Emerge clinicians have expertise in differential diagnosis and find that with accurate diagnoses families and clinicians can formulate a more effective treatment plan.

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