Steps to Getting an Autism Diagnosis
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cannot be diagnosed using a medical test, such as a blood test. Instead, doctors determine an Autism Diagnosis based on the child’s developmental history and behavior.
The earliest Autism Diagnosis is at 18 months or younger. It is considered more reliable for an experienced professional to make an Autism Diagnosis by the age of 2, but many children don’t receive a final Autism Diagnosis until much later in life. Those with Autism Spectrum Disorder are sometimes not diagnosed until they are adolescents or adults, so they may not receive early help.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder should be diagnosed as soon as possible in order to receive the needed services and support. There are several steps involved in this process.
Developmental Monitoring for Autism Spectrum Disorder
In Developmental Monitoring, parents and providers monitor the children’s growth and engage in discussions about their abilities and skills. Monitoring development can be done by parents, grandparents, early childhood educators, and other caregivers. The purpose of developmental monitoring is to determine whether your child meets the typical developmental milestones, or skills that are typically reached by a certain age, in terms of learning, speaking, playing, behavior, and movement.
Caregivers can use milestone tracker apps to monitor developmental milestones and know when there might be a concern and if more screening is needed. Checklists of milestones can also be used to track developmental milestones. If a caregiver notices that an individual is not meeting milestones, they must talk with a doctor or nurse about their concerns and ask about developmental screening.
The doctor or nurse will also monitor an individual’s development when they are going to a well-visit. The doctor or nurse might ask you questions about your child’s development or may play with your child to see how they are progressing.
The doctor or nurse may also ask about your child’s family history. Tell your doctor or nurse if any family members have ASD, learning disorders, intellectual disabilities, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as any other conditions that may affect your child.
Developmental Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorder
In developmental screenings, your child’s development is examined more closely.
The developmental screening process is a more formal process than developmental monitoring and is often done in conjunction with well-child checks even when there are no apparent concerns.
When children reach the following ages, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends developing and behavioral screenings:
- 9 months
- 18 months
- 30 months
Additionally, AAP recommends that at these ages all children be screened for Autism Spectrum Disorder specifically:
- 18 months
- 24 months
Researchers compare your child with other children of the same age through screening questionnaires and checklists. A developmental screening can be conducted by a doctor, nurse, or other professionals in healthcare, community, or school settings. Questions may include language, movement, and thinking skills, as well as behaviors and emotions.
The screening process may require you to fill out a questionnaire. If you or your doctor have concerns, screening may be done at a different age than recommended. There is also a need for additional screening if a child is at a higher risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder (for example, has a sibling or family member with Autism Spectrum Disorder) or if they display behaviors associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. You can ask for a developmental screening test from your child’s healthcare provider if it is not regularly conducted.
Developmental Diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Testing with a screening tool does not provide a diagnosis, but it can indicate whether a child is on the right development track or if a specialist is needed. An evaluation of the child’s development may be required if the screening tool identifies a concern. Usually, a developmental pediatrician, child psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, or another trained professional conducts this formal evaluation in order to get a more comprehensive view of the child’s development.
In addition to observing the child, a specialist may give him or her a structured test, ask questions to the parents or caregivers, or ask them to fill out questionnaires. It is possible to determine whether your child meets the criteria for a developmental diagnosis based on the results of this formal evaluation.
Autism Spectrum Disorder includes several conditions previously diagnosed separately; autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. You can get help navigating the diagnostic process from your doctor or other healthcare providers.
You may also be advised by the specialist if your child needs early intervention services. In some cases, the specialist might recommend genetic counseling and testing.
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