2
Diagnosis, Assessment, and Prevalence

MULTIDISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVES

The diagnosis of autism and related autistic spectrum disorders in young children is often relatively straightforward but can, at times, be challenging (Lord, 1997). Complexities in diagnosis and evaluation relate to the range of syndrome expression in these conditions along various dimensions such as language abilities and associated mental handicap (Volkmar et al., 1997); differential diagnosis, particularly in children younger than 3 years (Lord and Schopler, 1989); concerns regarding labeling (Hobbs, 1975) and diagnostic terminology within school systems; and lack of expertise in assessment and diagnosis among some educational professionals (Siegel et al., 1988).

In general, the perspectives of various professionals are required as part of the diagnostic process. This may involve the efforts of special educators, general educators, psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, and physicians. The need for a multidisciplinary or transdisciplinary perspective can create challenges for local educational authorities. Although the mandate of the local education authority (LEA) and state-funded developmental disability programs is to provide appropriate education, the services of non-LEA specialists are required for initial identification, diagnosis, and clinical services related to the presence of additional handicapping conditions. A LEA and state services may need to form relationships with individuals and centers with such expertise. Although various rating scales and checklists have been developed to aid in the process of assessment, these do not replace



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