The course of diagnosis in autistic patients: the delay between recognition of the first symptoms by parents and correct diagnosis.

: The primary aim of the research was to find the delay between the first symptoms of an autistic disorder being recognized by parents and diagnosis in our centre. A secondary objective was to evaluate the number of contacts with professionals (physicians, teachers, and speech therapists) in which parents pointed out special manifestations seen in children and, in spite of that, the children were not referred to a specialist. A retrospective study assessed 204 children (59 girls, 145 boys) in total; 126 children (39 girls, 87 boys) with childhood autism (CHA), 57 (17 girls, 40 boys) with atypical autism (AA), and 21 (3 girls, 18 boys) with Asperger's syndrome (AS). The mean age at appearance of the first signs was 29.7 months (range 0-70, median 30+/-17.0) in N=201, and the average age at diagnosis was 81.5 months (range 13-276, median 69.5+/-45.2) in N=204. The mean delay in making a diagnosis was 51.3 months (range 0-246, median 39+/-40.9) in N=201. The delay in diagnosis is shortest in patients with AA (a mean period of 44.4 months = 3 years and 8 months), longer in CHA patients (49.5 months = 4 years and 2 months), and longest in patients with AS (80.8 months = 6 years and 9 months). A statistically significant difference in the period to diagnosis was found between CHA and AS patients (p=0.023) and between AA and AS patients (p=0.019). The mean number of visits to physicians and other specialists before referring to a specialized centre for diagnosis in N=133 was 2.4 (range 1-5, median 2+/-0.9). The diagnosis of autism is made late and early educational and behavioural interventions cannot be initiated.

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