How to Avoid Misdiagnosing Children

Your youngest child’s speech has been slower to develop than your other kids. Along with that, you’ve noticed some social difficulties at daycare, like not interacting with teachers and other children they see daily. You wonder if you finally have a child who has an introvert’s brain chemistry or if this could be something more serious. You’ve read about the increase in autism diagnoses and wonder if you should schedule an appointment with the paediatrician.

If you’ve ever had this secret conversation with yourself or know a fellow parent who’s confided in you about their fears, we’re here to help. Here are a few of the essentials you must remember to avoid misdiagnosing your child when displaying certain behaviours.

Autism vs. Shyness

How to Avoid Misdiagnosing Children

It’s estimated that about one in every 59 children in the US is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed compared to girls. There is no way to detect the condition other than based on symptoms. The most likely cause is genetics, even though some people still believe that adhering to immunizations increases your child’s risk of being diagnosed. Research has proven this is not true and that vaccines are safe and shouldn’t be avoided out of fear of autism.

While the increased awareness of autism has brought much research to treatment and long-term care, it’s also caused many parents to become concerned about normal childhood behaviours. Some children are just more introverted and might not be as engaged or bubbly as their schoolroom counterparts. Here are a few things that can set autism and shyness apart:

Difficulty in Social Situations

Many children become frightened when putting in new social situations, especially if strangers are involved. However, it’s critical to know that most shy kids (not to be confused with anxious children) will acclimate to the environment and even engage in conversations with a stranger with time. If your child has autism, they’ll probably struggle to interact, even with people they know well. You might notice that they don’t make eye contact, become overwhelmed, act out, and cry in situations that most children their age enjoy.

Intense Interests

All children go through periods of being utterly obsessed with certain cartoon characters or toys. In most situations, this is normal and just part of being a quirky toddler or young child. However, for children with autism, the intense interest may seem a bit different. Instead of being mesmerized by a character or toy, children with autism are often interested in objects or even one part of an object. You may notice that your child watches and talks about ceiling fans or the fan’s blades with intensity when most children don’t pay any attention to this room fixture.

Displays of Anger

Angry Child

Everyone has seen the impressive show of anger that a toddler wrestling through the terrible twos can go through. While it can be frustrating to watch and even a bit concerning some days, it’s critical to remember that this is normal childhood behaviour most of the time. Children with autism can become angry quickly and have a hard time dealing with emotions. Because the feelings come on so rapidly, the intensity of their anger can be more extreme than usual. It’s best to observe the behaviours for a short time before deciding to head to the paediatrician for a professional opinion.

Preferring Toe-Walking

A common development delay that’s often associated with autism is toe-walking. If your child continues walking on their toes after the age of 2, you should probably talk to the doctor the next time you’re in the office. Just remember that there are causes for this condition besides autism. It might be a problem with your child’s muscles. It’s also crucial to remember that any single sign of autism alone is probably not too concerning. However, if your child displays multiple symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your primary provider.

What to Do if You’re Concerned


If you’re concerned that your child might have autism, it’s important to be seen by your physician as soon as possible. Once your doctor does a thorough exam, they can let you know if they see any behaviours or signs that are concerning. If they feel that a referral to a specialist is needed, be sure to choose a doctor and nurses who specialize in working with children. These practitioners receive training to work specifically with children, and many are certified to work with kids who have special needs.

You may want to request that your physician refer your child to a developmental paediatrician or another specialist. You can also contact the early intervention agency in your community for children under 3 years of age or your community school to inquire if your child might qualify for special services known as early intervention.

Even if your physician and the agency feel that your child qualifies, keep in mind that many children need a little extra help in the early years, not only those with autism. You might need to take some time off for appointments and assessments, so be sure to check out the protections you qualify for under harassment and discrimination laws at work.

Be Informed and Then Act

As a parent, it’s easy to stay up at night worrying about the myriad of ailments your child might have and be at risk to develop. However, it would help if you remembered that there are many more healthy children in the U.S compared to those with chronic conditions or special needs. Be sure to use this list to consider how your child is acting before heading to your care provider’s office.

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