My son is on the Autism spectrum (I self diagnosed him using an online screening tool when he was 2, this was later confirmed by a neuropsychologist consultation). For a long time I was in "denial" in that I was still afraid of the label, it took me many months not to cry when I heard the word autism! When we started biomed in Feb of 2004 I finally earned to embrace the label of Autism.
There is an important exception to the need for an official diagnosis of Autism (that I have found) and that is if you live in the US and you want your early start or school district to pay for an ABA program. For that case I believe that a full Autism diagnosis can be helpful. For practitioners in the sf bay area that can diagnose, see the sf bay area resources section of this website, under diagnosis.
Another helpful site: www.firstsigns.org
In the "Child with Special Needs" Drs Greenspan and Weider explain the term MSDD, Multi System Development Disorder or Regulatory Disorder
MSDD is considered to be on the Autistic Spectrum BUT many, many of the children that get the diagnosis do not KEEP the diagnosis. Translation - with good, comprehensive intervention many of these children have very good outcomes and move right on off the spectrum. If you take a regulatory disorder (the SI sensory processing kiddos) and involve more systems (motor planning, language disorders etc.) then you tend to be moving towards the MSDD piece of the spectrum.
As one parent said "In the end, does it matter if your guy has what some might call "autistic like traits"? What does that tell you? It is only a description not a destination or a "life sentence" and tells you nothing about where you need to go. Don't forget that, even if he does fall in the ASD basket that it is a spectrum diagnosis. IF he IS there who says he'll stay there? Does it really tell you anything?! I don't know how else to say it. Confusing? Sure! But keep focusing on his developmental profile and you will be fine."
Read more on diagnosis from a Floortime/DIR perspective here:
And if you do not have a diagnosis yet, or are newly diagnosed, see this video clip, it is a commercial for autism today, but it also shows what the first months can look and feel like...
Another heart warming and tear inspiring video is here:
And get hope from reading this site (I hope), and these sites:
http://www.zerotothree.org/jacob.html Here is a really cool parent story
And there are many parents on yahoo support groups, waiting to help you!!! See the links page, search on the word yahoo.