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Replacing a Spotlight With a Lantern: Using the DC:0–5 Multiaxial Framework When Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder in Early Childhood

Dec 12, 2021

Yael Dai, University of Massachusetts Boston; Daina M. Tagavi, University of Washington; Alice S. Carter, University of Massachusetts Boston

Abstract Early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) facilitates access to interventions that improve outcomes for children and families. Understanding developmental and behavioral manifestations of symptoms and competencies improves early diagnosis. The authors illustrate the benefits of using the ZERO TO THREE DC:0–5TM: Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood (DC:0–5, 2016) multiaxial system for assessment of young children suspected of having a diagnosis of ASD. DC:0–5 provides a framework for forming rich conceptualizations that reflect the influence of the family system, physical health, psychosocial stressors, developmental competence and co-occurring mental health symptoms and disorders, to promote accurate early diagnosis and enhance treatment planning.

Children can be reliably diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by 14 months old (Pierce et al., 2019). In addition, autism symptoms, including delayed or limited social behaviors and communication, are often present in the first year of life in children who are later diagnosed with ASD (Webb & Jones, 2009). Early diagnosis is important because it facilitates access to intervention. Participation in intensive early intervention is among the most important predictors of progress in communication and daily living skills in children with ASD (Anderson et al., 2014; MacDonald et al., 2014; Orinstein et al., 2015; Rogers & Vismara, 2008; Rogers et al., 2014).

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