The types of professionals most often making such diagnoses are psychologists and psychiatrists, particularly those trained in childhood disorders. Other types of doctors, such as neurologists, pediatricians, and general practitioners (sometimes called "family practice doctors"), may also see your child for a diagnostic evaluation. Additionally, social workers are trained in the diagnostic process and how to use the DSM-IV, so they are qualified to make diagnoses. Other professionals, such as teachers, speech-language pathologists, and occupational therapists, may have some knowledge of autism and may well be the ones who first alert you to the possibility, but they are not trained in the diagnostic process. Since teachers and therapists often have experience with other children like your son or daughter, even though they cannot make a formal diagnosis, you would be wise to listen to their concerns and ask for a referral to a qualified professional. At some agencies, your child will be seen by a team of professionals from a wide variety of disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, pediatrics, education, social work, and speech-language, so you and your child will get the benefit of even the professionals who are not, by themselves, able to make a diagnosis.
Whatever his or her particular credentials, the most important quality for your diagnostician is knowledge of and experience with autism spectrum disorders. It is not uncommon for professionals without such training, even those with appropriate degrees, to mistake the higher functioning autism spectrum disorders for something else. Just as you may have thought of a very remote, silent child obsessed with spinning objects in a corner when you heard the term "autism," so too many professionals without appropriate training think that a verbal, bright child who does not flap his hands cannot possibly have anything related to autism. This is likely what delayed both Lauren's and Clint's diagnoses. So be sure to ask, when scheduling an appointment for a diagnostic evaluation, if the examiner or team has expertise, or at least experience, with higher functioning autism spectrum disorders.
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