Autism is a genetically-based neurotype that results in different ways of thinking, interacting, moving, and perceiving the world. Recent research has shown that one of the reasons these differences exist is due to the hyperconnectivity of the autistic brain. This hyper connection contributes to a more intense sensory, cognitive, and emotional experience, which manifests in a variety of ways. If you’ve heard the saying “when you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person”, then you’ll know that autism is an extremely heterogenous neurotype. As such, there are many nuances involved with identifying autism in individuals of all ages. There is no lab test or objective metric that clearly determines if a person is autistic. Instead, they are observed and assessed with different toolkits including developmental or interactive screening, which can reveal autistic traits.
When most people think of autism, an image of a stimming, non-speaking or echolalic, cisgender white male most often comes to mind. Steve Silberman’s book NeuroTribes documents the legacy of autism and details how the large majority of research has been conducted on young white cisgender boys with similar autistic traits. However, as the neurodiversity movement has gained strength, we have learned that there are an endless number of autistic presentations and that many populations (e.g., female, transgender, nonbinary, people of color) have been overlooked or misdiagnosed.
Given all this, some parents are sometimes unaware that their child may be autistic. Additionally, some who may suspect it might — for an array of reasons including fear, doubt, hesitancy, or wanting to wait and see — delay evaluating and testing their child for autism.
But early testing with a neurodiversity-affirming assessor who understands non-stereotypical presentations of autism can make a major positive difference in your child’s life.
“When we know that a child is autistic, and we can provide affirming, supportive care by gaining insight into their neurotype, accommodating their environment, and strengthening self-advocacy skills, then we are going to see the best outcomes for that child over time,” said Georgetown Psychology’s Dr. Kaitlyn Tiplady.
That’s in part because within the child’s first few years of age, their brain is very “plastic.” That means their synapses are still being generated and formed – rapidly – and even reformed and rewired. The brain is able to quickly and forcefully adapt based on different experiences.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a developmental screen for autism for all children between ages 18 and 24 months. Around 2 years old is a time that autism can be reliably diagnosed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that autistic traits can show up for some children within their first 12 months of age too.
Autism is not that uncommon — with the CDC reporting that around 1 in 44 eight-year-old children surveyed identified with an autism spectrum disorder in 2018. A CDC study found that autistic children are being diagnosed increasingly earlier: More children born in 2014 received their autism diagnosis within their first two years of age than children born in 2010.
“Parents sometimes wait to seek an evaluation because they are worried that the evaluator won’t see the whole picture and instead focus on deficits and weaknesses.” Tiplady said. “However, an assessment with someone who truly understand neurodiversity will focus on differences rather than deficits and provides the parents a roadmap for ways to capitalize on their child’s strengths while supporting their challenges with individualized accommodations.”
“Rather than limiting the child with a diagnosis,” Tiplady added, “formal autism identification can promote understanding and create new opportunities to embrace the strengths of their neurotype and remove the barriers that are in the child’s way because they were born with a brain that processes information in a different way.”
At Georgetown Psychology, we view an autism evaluation as an opportunity to learn more about your child’s neurotype in order to gain understanding and awareness of why certain aspects of a neurotypical world might be more difficult for them. This awareness can lead to a complete shift in perspective for parents, teachers, and caregivers and help them understand that changing the environment and not their child will be the most beneficial treatment plan. Providing support, teaching self-advocacy skills, and embracing their strengths will help your child feel more understood, supported, and affirmed, which can greatly reduce the likelihood of future emotional distress. Our evaluators pride themselves on approaching the assessment process from a neurodiversity-affirming, therapeutic lens to help reduce the anxiety and lower the stigma of evaluating and being identified as autistic.
We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Kaitlyn Tiplady to our McLean office. Dr. Tiplady has worked in autism assessment centers at the Center for Excellence in Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Florida, the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders (CASD) at Children’s National Hospital, and the Child Development Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She has expertise in the evaluation of autistic children (as young as 18 months) and teens, with an emphasis on developmental evaluations for young and medically complex children. If you would like to set up a consultation or evaluation with Dr. Tiplady, please contact our office at (202)333-6251.