Understanding the Autism Diagnosis Process
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult, as there is no medical test – like a blood test – to diagnose the disorders. Clinicians assess a child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis.
Autism can be diagnosed at a very young age; however, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with ASD might not get the help they need.
Diagnostic evaluations of ASD often include two steps: developmental screening and comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.
A developmental screening is a brief test to tell if children are learning basic skills when they should, or if they might have delays. During a developmental screening the family doctor might ask the parent some questions or talk and play with the child during an exam to see how he/she listens, speaks, behaves, and moves. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a problem.
It is recommended that all children should be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child doctor visits at 9 months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months. Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birth weight or other reasons.
Most children are also screened specifically for ASD during regular well-child doctor visits at 18 and 24 months. Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for ASD (e.g., having a sister, brother or other family member with an ASD) or if behaviors sometimes associated with ASD are present
It is important for doctors and pediatricians to screen all children for developmental delays, but especially to monitor those who are at a higher risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birth weight, or having a brother or sister with an ASD.
If the doctor sees any signs of a problem, a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation should be recommended.
Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation
The second step of diagnosis is a comprehensive evaluation. This more thorough review includes observing the child’s behavior and development as well as interviewing the parents. It may also include a hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, neurological testing, and other medical testing to rule out other factors.
In some cases, the primary care doctor might choose to refer the child and family to a specialist for further assessment and diagnosis.
There are multiple evaluation tools practitioners can use to diagnose autism, including the ADOS-2, Vineland-3, M-CHAT, CARS, and GARS. The ultimate goal is to make a determination of diagnosis and move forward with treatment as quickly as possible.
Applied Behavior Center for Autism
The Applied Behavior Center for Autism offers comprehensive diagnostic testing in-house. If you’re interested in an evaluation for your child, contact us today at 317-849-5437 or go to www.appliedbehaviorcenter.org/get-started/.