Importance of Trauma-Informed Practice in Evaluation of Children Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Adam Langenfeld, Maria Kroupina, Alyssa R Palmer, Kimara L Gustafson, Marilyn Augustyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


CASE:As part of a multidisciplinary adoption support clinic, Erin, a 5-year-old girl, adopted approximately 6 months before the clinic visit, presents for postadoption evaluation. Erin was born at full term. Her birth history was significant for reported maternal treatment for liver failure during pregnancy. Her previous medical history included hospitalization for a viral illness at age 2 months, recurrent ear infections, and a fractured forearm. Family history was significant for a maternal history of bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and concern for substance abuse; a paternal history of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression; and full biological brother with a history of ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder. Erin and her brother lived with their parents until she was approximately 3 years old. At that time, there were concerns for poor hygiene, inconsistent medical care, poor school attendance for her brother, financial instability, and significant neglect. Erin was reportedly confined to her crib for hours at a time. She and her older brother were removed from the home because of concerns for significant neglect and placed into foster care. Approximately 3 months after foster placement, Erin underwent testing because of concerns for abnormal behaviors and possible developmental delays. Symptoms included poor sleep, repetitive behaviors such as head banging, delayed speech that primarily involved grunting, and lack of toilet training. She was hyperactive and aggressive and had poor caregiver attachment. On evaluation, she was small for age, poorly groomed, and easily distracted with poor eye contact and did not tolerate interactions with examiners. Neuropsychological testing consisted of symptom checklists and caregiver interview only because she did not tolerate diagnostic testing. She was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and global developmental delay with intellectual and language impairments. Over the following year, Erin was transitioned to a second foster family and was subsequently adopted. She received speech, occupational, and physical therapy, along with trauma-informed therapy. She made significant gains in multiple domains and was able to graduate from trauma-informed therapy after 1 year. On examination, Erin greets you with appropriate eye contact and reports that she is feeling "good." She is verbal and interactive with her brother and parents. She looks to parents for support when asked to participate in the physical examination. She does not display any significant repetitive behaviors. Erin's parents are concerned that her initial diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and global developmental delay do not accurately reflect her current level of functioning and are afraid she may have been misdiagnosed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)690-693
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.


  • autism spectrum disorder
  • neglect
  • trauma
  • trauma-informed practice


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