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The Role of Pediatricians in Autism Screening

by Jaime Friedman

August 22, 2023


The Role of Pediatricians in Autism Screening 

The role of pediatricians in autism screening is instrumental in obtaining appropriate support for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Pediatricians serve as frontline observers, tasked with recognizing the earliest signs of autism. Especially for parents seeking autism services for the first time, pediatricians are a valuable resource. Though they cannot make an autism diagnosis, pediatricians can refer children to diagnostic specialists after completing an autism screening. At Aspire Child and Family Services, we strive to maintain healthy working relationships with each member of your child’s support team, including your family pediatrician. 

The Pediatrician’s Role in Autism Diagnosis 

Just like the specifics of an individual’s autism diagnosis, the role of pediatricians in autism screening can change on a case-by-case basis. In general, a pediatrician can conduct screening assessments, share guidance with parents and offer a referral to further evaluate a child based on screening results. There are guidelines for the role of pediatricians in autism screening available, but the specifics of the process are usually determined by the client’s present needs. 

It is important to remember that a pediatrician cannot provide a diagnosis directly, but they can help you transition from the autism screening stage, into the autism diagnosis stage. A child can only be evaluated for an autism diagnosis after the screening process reveals positive signs of ASD. We encourage unfamiliar parents to ask their family pediatricians about the difference between autism testing and diagnosis. Some of the tasks a pediatrician might complete during an autism screening include: 

  • Developmental Surveillance: Pediatricians can practice developmental surveillance themselves by providing observations, but they can also help parents identify signs they should look for during autism screening. At each routine check-up, your child’s pediatrician will observe their social interactions, behaviors, and progress with developmental milestones. 

  • Screening Tools Implementation: Using evidence-based screening tools, like the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT), pediatricians can learn if a child is displaying signs of ASD. 

  • Referral and Follow-Up: In cases where screening results raise concerns, pediatricians facilitate timely referrals to specialized professionals for further evaluation. This will grant the child access to individualized care that may not be included in the role of pediatricians. 

Continuing Care from Pediatricians After an Autism Diagnosis

After a child has been diagnosed with autism, the child’s pediatrician still plays an important role in their developmental stages. A pediatrician can serve as a member of a child’s support team and contribute observations from their own unique perspective to create a clearer picture of the child’s developmental status. 

  • Comprehensive Guidance: Pediatricians provide parents with comprehensive guidance on the autism screening process, explanations of screening results, and direction for those who may qualify for an autism diagnosis. This support empowers parents to make informed decisions regarding further evaluation or upcoming interventions. 

  • Collaborative Care Planning: Pediatricians have access to a network of specialized experts, and they use it to refer clients to the right providers. They work with other medical professionals to ensure that a child’s unique set of needs aligns with the specialty of the provider they have been referred to. This ensures a well-rounded approach to intervention and maximizes the child's developmental progress. 

  • Ongoing Monitoring and Adjustment: Regular follow-up appointments enable pediatricians to monitor the child's overall health, developmental milestones, and response to interventions, even after an autism diagnosis has been made. Pediatricians can offer valuable input to autism service providers as the child’s abilities and needs evolve.  

Communicating Effectively with Your Child’s Pediatrician about Autism

Maintaining good communication between parents and the care team is key to acquiring the best possible care for their children. A parent who keeps open and honest conversations with their child’s pediatrician can be better prepared for any sudden changes in the treatment plan or in the child’s behavior. The parent will have a greater understanding of the treatment given, along with more opportunities to become an active participant on your child’s care team. They could receive regular updates on the child’s progress or any new developments. Learning about treatment and participating in practice leads to more well-informed decisions by parents. By nurturing effective communication and collaboration between parents, pediatricians, and organizations, our team at Aspire Child and Family Services believes that we create a supportive network that empowers children with autism to thrive and achieve their fullest potential. 

 We welcome feedback and inquiries from pediatricians and parents. Contact Aspire if you are interested in expanding your child’s care team or looking to begin autism services.