"New Ways to Diagnose Autism Earlier" read a recent headline in the Wall Street Journal. There is no question that you can diagnose anything as early as you want. The real question is whether the diagnosis will turn out to be correct.
My own awareness of how easy it is to make false diagnoses of autism grew out of experiences with a group of parents of late-talking children that I formed back in 1993.
A number of those children were diagnosed as autistic. But the passing years have shown most of the diagnoses to have been false, as most of these children have not only begun talking but have developed socially.
Some parents have even said, "Now I wish he would shut up."
I did absolutely nothing to produce these results. As a layman, I refused to diagnose these children, much less suggest any treatment, even though many parents wanted such advice.
As word of my group spread, various parents would write to ask if they could bring their child to me to seek my impression or advice. I declined every time.
Yet, if I had concocted some half-baked method of diagnosing and treating these children, I could now claim a high rate of success in "curing" autism, based on case studies. Perhaps my success rate would be as high as that claimed by various programs being touted in the media.
If a child is not autistic to begin with, almost anything will "cure" him with the passage of time.
My work brought me into contact with Professor Stephen Camarata of Vanderbilt University, who has specialized in the study of late-talking children-- and who is qualified to diagnose autism.
Professor Camarata has organized his own group of parents of late-talking children, which has grown to hundreds, as compared to the several dozen children in my group. Yet the kinds of children and the kinds of families are remarkably similar in the two groups, in ways spelled out in my book "The Einstein Syndrome."
The difference is that Professor Camarata is not a layman but a dedicated professional, with decades of experience-- and he too has expressed dismay at the number of false diagnoses of autism that he has encountered.
What Camarata has also encountered is something that I encountered in my smaller group-- parents who have been told to allow their child to be diagnosed as autistic, in order to become eligible for government money that is available, and can be used for speech therapy or whatever other treatment the child might need.
How much this may have contributed to the soaring statistics on the number of children diagnosed as autistic is something that nobody knows-- and apparently not many people are talking about it.