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Tips for Parents Wondering: How Do You Test for Autism?

by Jaime Friedman

August 17, 2023


Tips for Parents Wondering: "How Do You Test for Autism?”

Autism testing involves various steps and requires collaboration among parents, teachers, doctors, and developmental specialists. In this guide, we will explore the diagnosis process, the professionals involved, the commonly used tools, and offer context for parents asking, “How do you test for autism?” 

Understanding the Autism Diagnosis Process

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that affects social interactions, communication skills and sensory perception. Autism is classified as a spectrum disorder, meaning that individuals can present with a wide range of symptoms and characteristics. Because of the complexity and individualized nature of the disorder, there is more than one accepted method to test for autism. At Aspire Child and Family Services, we understand the importance of addressing the needs of the individual diagnosed with autism, rather than addressing generalized needs associated with the disorder.  

 It is crucial to recognize that each case is unique, and a proper diagnosis requires careful observation and data collection. This mainly occurs during the screening process. While certain traits and skill deficits are associated with autism, a professional making a diagnosis must rely on direct observations and measurable data to address the individual's specific needs effectively.  

Interpreting Autism Test Results

Receiving an autism diagnosis is just one step in a detailed process of finding support for individuals with ASD. A proper diagnosis requires careful observation and data collection leading up to a formal assessment. As your child’s provider becomes more familiar with their strengths and needs, they will administer any number of formal assessments with varying focuses.  

If one of your loved ones is testing for autism, you do not need to dread learning the results. Along with a diagnosis, the client will receive an individualized plan designed to help them grow in the areas where they struggle. They will also receive access to a team dedicated to supporting the client and ensuring that the treatment plan is successful. Additionally, the client and their provider will have a foundation that has already been established during the screening process. 

 You can find more information specific to the testing process at Aspire on our website, or you can talk to our staff about where your child fits along the autism testing timeline. 

What are the First Steps in Getting Tested for Autism?

Autism testing starts well before the first formal assessment is given. As early as in the first session, your child’s provider will learn about their interests, abilities, habits and anything else that could be relevant to the process. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends screening all children for autism when they are eighteen months old and twenty-four months old, along with regular developmental surveillance. 

If you suspect your child may have autism, or if you have been told to have your child evaluated, taking the first steps can be overwhelming. Here are some important initial actions to consider: 

  1. Progress Monitoring: Pay close attention to your child’s behavior and social interactions. Also take note of developmental milestones as they are met (taking their first steps, saying their first words, toilet training, etc.). Keep a journal or record videos to document any concerning patterns you notice.

  2. Screening: Schedule a visit with your child’s pediatrician and share your observations. Parents can ask for a consultation at a routine check-up too. The pediatrician will be able to assess your child’s developmental progress and offer a referral to a specialist if needed. Completion of the screening process does not indicate an autism diagnosis. Instead, it determines if autism testing is appropriate for your child, and if so, it may lead the provider to decide which assessment directly applies to their needs.  

  3. Assessment: Depending on your pediatrician's recommendation, seek an evaluation from a multi-disciplinary team of professionals, including child psychologists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, or developmental specialists. Collaborate with the assessment team by providing detailed information about your child's behavior, development, and any concerns you have noticed. This information can help distinguish which assessment should be used, and it is crucial in making an accurate diagnosis.

What Professionals are Involved in Autism Testing?

In order to test for autism, you will need to involve a team of professionals with expertise in child development and learning disorders. Here are some of the key providers who may be involved: 

  • Pediatricians play a significant role in the initial evaluation and in early detection. They may refer a child to specialists if further assessment is required. 

  • Child psychologists conduct behavioral observations and use standardized tests to assess a child’s behavior and development. 

  • Speech-language pathologists evaluate a child’s communication skills and language development. 

  • Occupational therapists assess a child’s sensory processing and fine motor skills.

  • Developmental specialists focus on evaluating the child’s overall development and can identify developmental delays. 

These options help account for the variety of needs associated with ASD, but it is always safe to start by consulting your pediatrician. 

What Tests are Commonly Used for Diagnosing Autism?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes multiple diagnostic tools to test for autism, and they also acknowledge that “no single tool should be the basis for diagnosis.” The CDC does highlight some examples of accepted diagnostic tools though. Examples include the Autism Diagnosis Interview (ADI-R), Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2), Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), and the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS-2). 

 Aspire Child and Family Services primarily uses the ADOS-2 to diagnose ASD, as it is known as the gold standard for diagnostic testing. Each assessment has a distinct focus, so they all serve a purpose in diagnosing. The ADOS-2 can often be used as a starting point to determine whether more testing is needed or not. 

How Long Does It Take to Get an Autism Diagnosis?

The duration of the autism diagnosis process can differ depending on several factors, such as the availability of specialists, the complexity of the child’s case and the number of assessments required. It may take weeks or even months to complete the evaluation fully. This comprehensive approach ensures that the diagnosis is accurate and tailored to the individual's unique needs. The process may be lengthy, but it is necessary to find the best possible treatment for your child. 

It is nearly impossible to predict how long it will take for an individual to receive a diagnosis, but if any early signs of autism are present, it is time to begin the process. Early interventions are proven effective, and a diagnosis at an early age means receiving treatment at an early age. Autism treatment plans can change frequently, but early interventions give providers more opportunity to shape their clients’ development.

For more information on the autism testing process, autism services and everything Aspire has to offer, contact us, subscribe, and browse our website.