Dr. Catherine Karni -- a psychiatrist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and medical director of outpatient services at the Center for Pediatric Psychiatry at Children's Medical Center Dallas -- said patients often display a distinctive pattern of symptoms rather than just one.
The main characteristics include impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication, restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. Unusual sensory interests may be part of the presentation.
Parents are usually the first to notice the unusual behaviors, while pediatricians initially hear their concerns, Karni said.
Early identification and intervention remain extremely important, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends autism-specific screening of all children at 9, 18, 24, and 30 months, as well as at any time children present with delayed language or communication, regression, or when parents voice concerns regarding autism.
"Autism cannot be diagnosed with a simple diagnostic test," Karni said in a statement. "Having a team of specialists conduct specific assessments means there is a better chance for children to be diagnosed correctly and for the right treatments to be enacted. Many parents take their child to a pediatrician because the child is not talking. But there are many possibilities for this behavior. Autism is only one."