Dr. Volkmar explains if a medical professional is capable of predicting the functional level of an autistic child.
So predicting outcome is always a risky business, and when parents ask me and sometimes I am, you know, I have seen a lot of kids over the years, and sometimes parents will ask me and I will always tell them, “Look, it’s a sunny day outside in Palm Beach today. I cannot guarantee that you walk outside and be struck by lightning because there’s no absolute guarantees of anything.” That being said, the kinds of things that we look at in autism, over time, we want to see is the child talking and using language to communicate by age 5? That’s a good sign.
Also, starting at around age 5, the IQ tests start to become much more predictive, and we often look to see as the person’s non-verbal cognitive ability because we know the language problems are a major problem. We take out the language; if their non-verbal skills are in the normal range, that’s often a good sign as well. And finally, we like to look at how the person copes with the real world. We sometimes have kids who have very great levels of knowledge, but they are very isolated areas of knowledge, and this is something that’s called adaptive skills, which is the ability to be independent and self-sufficient. That’s another big predictor.
By the time the child gets to school age and you can start to look at the profiles, you start to get better in terms of thinking about how things are going to go. Even there, sometimes in adolescence, a few kids will take off and do much better than you think, and a few kids will go the other way, and you can’t always predict why.
About Dr. Volkmar, M.D.:
Fred Volkmar, M.D. is the director of the Yale University Child Study Center and Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Psychology at Yale University, where he heads the university's autism research and autism clinic. He is also Chief of Child Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital. His research focuses on understanding the fundamental nature of autism and developing better guidelines to diagnose autism and related conditions.