language development
Can delays in language development in internationally adopted children be misdiagnosed as autism?

Q:  Are there any studies to distinguish international adoptee’s developmental and other disorders (mainly language and sensory) from the similar signs of autism? In other words, are you aware of any findings that some internationally adopted children are misdiagnosed with autism due to their developmental delay and/or sensory integration difficulties? Although I’m sure that adopted children are just as likely as other children to develop autism, I also fear that some may be misdiagnosed. Many of the signs of autism are actually quite common for the internationally adopted child, but many doctors/teachers are not familiar with the effects of less than optimal or institutional care during the very early years of life.

A: I don’t know of any studies showing a misdiagnosis, but I can share a lot of anecdotal info. Internationally adopted kids, especially those who lived in institutions/orphanages prior to adoption, can absolutely have “symptoms” that mimic autism. Some doctors believe that early deprivation can cause a type of autism called “institutional autism”. The diagnosing of autism is often more art than science, so yes, I would assume that it would be fairly east to misdiagnose. However, I would also assume that the treatment for autism would also help a child who is showing symptoms of autism regardless the cause.

For more information, listen to the Creating a Family show on Language Development in Internationally Adopted Children.

Image credit: TobiasMik · WhatWeDo