Approaching an autism evaluation is not always an easy or comfortable time for parents or their child. With such an important assessment and diagnosis, you want to be sure that your child is going through the best process and that you are being properly informed every step of the way.
In order to understand what to look for in an autism evaluation, it is important to understand what to expect. You might be wondering, “How long is an autism evaluation?” and “Should I get my child tested for autism?” Hopefully we’ll shed some light on these very commonly asked questions and give you some guidance about how to best proceed for your child.
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 how your child has been developing. Depending on the age of your child, 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. However, they do not warrant an immediate diagnosis, as there are many language disorders that might present as potential autism diagnoses. Similarly, autism is often mistaken for ADHD, anxiety, depression and other disorders.
- Diagnostic Assessment: 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, but the purpose of these tests is to evaluate certain skills and repetitive behaviors of your child.
- Interviews: Questionnaires, screenings, and skill assessments of your child are a great way 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 about a child reaching developmental milestones and concerns regarding it. There is an Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADI-R) that is often paired with the ADOS in order to get a highly accurate view of what a child’s behavioral tendencies are.
- Cognitive Testing: At some point, the cognitive abilities of a child being screened for autism will likely be assessed. This is so the screener or clinician can see how the child behaves under a less formal setting than some of the 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 is appropriate follow-up, it is highly recommended to work with an autism expert. Though pediatricians are capable of making a diagnosis, you want someone who has significant experience in the field of child autism treatment and can guide you and your family on the right path. Always make sure to ask about an evaluator’s training and experience, as well as their plan for the assessment and follow-up steps you need to take.
How Long Does an Autism Evaluation Take?
A full autism evaluation 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 are at the point where a clinic and autism expert can apply the diagnostic tests, parent/caregiver interview, and direct observation, it should take anywhere from 3-5 hours. Each of the diagnostic tests (ADOS, CSBS) usually last between 30-60 minutes, and depending on the results and observations of a clinician, there will be moderate follow up.
Make sure to communicate with any potential autism assessment providers about their anticipated process before committing to a full evaluation.
Where Can a Child Get Tested For Autism?
Your primary healthcare 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 will often have psychiatrists, SLPs, and autism experts all under one roof that can work to provide you comprehensive evaluation once you are referred there. 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 delay, it is recommended to test them for autism. An initial screening or diagnosis will be able to let an evaluator know whether to further pursue an autism diagnosis. Similarly, with proper professional evaluation, they might be able to let you know whether your child has different developmental delays such as ADHD or a speech delay that requires different attention.