Screening and Testing for Autism
by Jaime Friedman
August 18, 2022
Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Diagnosis Process
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that takes a wide range of forms, but cases are linked by deficits in social and communication skills along with heightened sensory sensitivity and behavioral characteristics. The characteristics of Autism and other mental disorders are documented and updated in the most current version of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR). Healthcare professionals use the DSM-V-TR to diagnose mental health conditions, but there are still a few steps that lead up to a finalized diagnosis.
The Screening Process
Diagnosing Autism is a process that includes parental awareness and medical screening before the child meets with a specialist who can diagnose. Every child learns differently and develops at their own pace, but significant delays in the acquisition of certain skills may suggest that the child may be exhibiting characteristics of Autism. Parents can be proactive by monitoring their child’s progress with developmental milestones. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has guidelines for developmental monitoring and when to begin the screening process. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children at eighteen and twenty-four months of age. Children presenting with more significant delays usually receive additional screening. It is recommended to start formally screening a child as soon as they begin exhibiting skill deficits and especially if their development stagnates or regresses. Infants and toddlers also undergo developmental screenings with their pediatrician, who can recommend next steps. If monitoring or screening a child uncovers areas of concern, the next step is to contact a specialist to address these concerns. The CDC acknowledges that screening does not always result in a diagnosis, but it is an ongoing process that helps parents and behavioral health professionals to understand the child.
The Diagnostic Process - Screening and Diagnostic Tools
When meeting with a specialist, parents need to be great advocates and to have a good understanding of their child’s developmental milestones, strengths, and needs. This data will help the specialist understand the child’s development and skill deficits, and it will aide the parent while completing rating scales used to determine the likelihood of ASD. There is a variety of assessments for diagnosing Autism, but the CDC highlights some of the most widely accepted protocols, including the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2). The ADOS-2 is a standardized assessment used for diagnosing Autism. It provides comprehensive analysis of a child’s abilities and helps professionals develop a foundation for a diagnosis. While the ADOS-2 is considered the “gold standard,” it is not
the only useful tool used for concluding an Autism diagnosis. It can be an excellent starting point, but there are other resources that aim to assess different characteristics within a child’s profile, such as oral and social communication, behaviors, and social skills. Autism is a complex disorder that manifests in so many ways, it usually requires more than one assessment to be diagnosed.
How a Diagnosis is Made
After a child has been thoroughly screened and assessed, a trained professional will review observations from interviews and results from diagnostic assessments and a diagnosis will be made based on the sum of all the results. When observations and assessments have provided sufficient evidence to link a child’s symptoms to the DSM-V-TR standards for Autism, a diagnosis can be made, and behavioral health services can be initiated. Receiving a diagnosis unlocks specialized treatments that directly address the behavioral health needs of children with Autism. An Autism diagnosis in Pennsylvania means qualifying for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) services. It also means a child meets criteria for Medicaid which can help parents fund therapies and treatments needed for their child. For every suspected case of Autism, the safest course of action is to monitor and screen as early as the child exhibits signs. If your child does not meet criteria for a diagnosis, you can help them in other ways by finding therapists/specialists to build developmental skills. If your child is diagnosed with Autism, there are a multitude of resources out there to address their needs.
Aspire Child & Family Services has resources for parents that still have questions and offers Diagnostic Autism Testing for children.