Ask the Doctor: Is Autism Often Misdiagnosed?

 Q. My nephew doesn’t meet any milestones for toddlers his age. He also doesn’t seem to interact with anyone. Could the doctor be missing an autism diagnosis? What else could it be?

boy shy autism alone 300x199 Ask the Doctor: Is Autism Often Misdiagnosed? PhotoA. Autism is a spectrum disorder encompassing many different varieties and symptoms.

While no one wants to believe that their child has a problem, the earlier that autism is detected, the more successful that treatment will be, enabling the child to learn and thrive.

While symptoms may vary in type and intensity, the four common areas of compromise involve:

  1. Interaction with others
  2. Communication skills (verbal and nonverbal)
  3. Thinking
  4. Behavior

The cause is unknown and many studies show that vaccines are not linked to the etiology of autism.



A child starts demonstrating autistic symptoms at 2-3 yrs. They stiffen or go limp when being picked up. There is a loss of eye contact and smiles along with language decline. Social skills are compromised. Medication and behavior therapy can help.

Any regression of skills already achieved is a big warning sign. There is no specific diagnostic test for autism. Parents know their child best and should go with their gut instincts that something is wrong and to check it out further with professionals.

Keep a close eye on developmental stages and when there is doubt, check it out immediately. Don’t take a wait and see attitude.


Medical Conditions resembling Autism

There are other health conditions that can be mistaken for autism due to overlapping symptoms and those that are mistakenly not considered.

However, it is important to note that while you are ruling out other medical problems to make a diagnosis of autism, it is possible to have another condition and autism concurrently.

Alternate conditions include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Hearing loss
  • Epilepsy
  • Anxiety
  • Fragile X
  • Downs Syndrome
  • Cornelia DeLange Syndrome
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
  • Landau-Kleffner Syndrome
  • Genetic deletion disorder.

Unlike autism, children with other medical conditions typically enjoy and seek out social interaction and they are generally quite socially adept.

Occasionally children with bipolar disorders, aggression, oppositional defiant disorder, depression and obsessive compulsiveness are mistaken for autism.

Science has progressed in treating autism but in terms of identifying the condition, it is still the parents or family that knows best. Don’t ignore the problem!

Read our autism Patient Guide to learn more about getting a diagnosis from your doctor.