Approaching an autism evaluation is not always an easy or comfortable time for parents or their child. With such a critical assessment and diagnosis, you want to be sure that your child is going through the best process and that you are being adequately informed every step of the way.
In this blog, we’ll look at the following autism evaluation questions:
- What happens during an autism assessment for children?
- How long does an autism evaluation take?
- Where can a child get tested for autism?
- Should I test my child for autism?
What Happens During an Autism Assessment for Children?
Once you have chosen an autism assessment provider to work with, you may have one or more appointments with a team of professionals. From there, you will likely be asked to fill out a questionnaire about the progress of your child’s development.
Depending on your child’s age, these might be the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) or the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, which is more of a developmental screening tool.
If further evaluation is warranted, a diagnostician will likely evaluate the following:
- Social Communication Skills. Delays in social communication skills and social interactions are often flagged as signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, they do not warrant an immediate diagnosis, as many language disorders might present as potential autism diagnoses. Likewise, autism is often mistaken for ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.
- Diagnostic Evaluation. Some of the most common diagnostic instruments are the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) or the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS).
Their implementation will vary based on your child’s age and the clinician’s determination of need. Still, these tests aim to evaluate your child’s specific skills and repetitive behaviors.
- Interviews. Questionnaires, screenings, and skill assessments of your child are great ways for a diagnostician to gather metrics, but they don’t tell the whole story.
Gathering more information from parents, teachers, or other adults who can provide context about how the child has reacted in more natural settings will allow for a better understanding of a child reaching developmental milestones and concerns regarding it.
There’s an Autism Diagnostic Interview–Revised (ADI-R) that is often paired with the ADOS to get a highly accurate view of what a child’s behavioral tendencies are.
- Cognitive Testing. At some point, a child’s cognitive abilities screened for autism will likely be assessed. This is so the screener or clinician can see how the child behaves in a less formal setting than some rigid diagnostic tests.
Similarly, it lets behavioral specialists see how your child reacts to being put into different thinking scenarios, which can help expand the diagnosis and treatment plan.
- Follow-Up with an Autism Specialist. Some screenings or evaluations are given by pediatricians; if there’s an appropriate follow-up, it’s highly recommended to work with an autism expert.
Though pediatricians can make a diagnosis, you want someone with significant experience in child autism treatment who can guide you and your family on the right path.
Always ask about an evaluator’s specialized training and experience and their plan for the assessment and follow-up steps you need to take.
How Long Does an Autism Evaluation Take?
The complete autism evaluation process and diagnosis may not be a one-day event should you need second opinions, follow-ups, or more information regarding your child.
However, if you’re at the point where a clinic and autism expert can apply the diagnostic tests, parent-caregiver interview, and direct observation, it should take between 3-5 hours.
Each diagnostic test (ADOS, CSBS) usually lasts between 30-60 minutes and has a moderate follow-up after a clinician observes and reviews the results. Communicate with potential autism assessment providers about their anticipated process before committing to a complete evaluation.
Where Can a Child Get Tested For Autism?
Your primary care provider, neurologist, or pediatrician may have to be your first point of contact to start an autism evaluation. However, if this is unnecessary or simply for referral purposes, we highly recommend your child see an autism specialist at a clinic near you.
ABA and autism treatment clinics often have psychiatrists, SLPs, and autism experts under one roof that can provide a comprehensive evaluation once you’re referred. This will allow for the best information flow and subsequent treatment plan should one be necessary.
Should I Test my Child for Autism?
If you believe your child is exhibiting signs or symptoms of a developmental disability or delay, it’s recommended to test them for autism. An initial screening or diagnosis will let an evaluator know whether to pursue an autism diagnosis further.
With proper professional evaluation, professionals might be able to let you know whether your child has different developmental delays, such as ADHD or a speech delay that requires additional attention.
Published On: December 10, 2021
Updated On: March 23, 2023