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Autism screening and diagnosis overview
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) can be difficult, since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the child's behavior and development to make a diagnosis.
ASDs can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with an ASD might not get the help they need.
Diagnosing an ASD takes two steps:
Developmental screening is a short test to tell if children are learning basic skills when they should, or if they might have delays. During developmental screening the doctor might ask the parent some questions or talk and play with the child during an exam to see how she learns, speaks, behaves, and moves. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a problem.
All children should be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child doctor visits at:
- 9 months
- 18 months
- 24 or 30 months
- Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birth weight or other reasons.
In addition, all children should be screened specifically for ASDs during regular well-child doctor visits at:
- 18 months
- 24 months
- Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for ASDs (e.g., having a sister, brother or other family member with an ASD) or if behaviors sometimes associated with ASDs are present
It is important for doctors to screen all children for developmental delays, but especially to monitor those who are at a higher risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birth weight, or having a brother or sister with an ASD.
If your child's doctor does not routinely check your child with this type of developmental screening test, ask that it be done.
If the doctor sees any signs of a problem, a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation is needed.
Comprehensive diagnostic evaluation
The second step of diagnosis is a comprehensive evaluation. This thorough review may include looking at the child's behavior and development and interviewing the parents. It may also include a hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, neurological testing, and other medical testing.
In some cases, the primary care doctor might choose to refer the child and family to a specialist for further assessment and diagnosis. Specialists who can do this type of evaluation include:
- Developmental Pediatricians (doctors who have special training in child development and children with special needs)
- Child Neurologists (doctors who work on the brain, spine, and nerves)
- Child Psychologists or Psychiatrists (doctors who know about the human mind)
Quick GuideAutism Signs in Children: What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Centers for Disease Control (CDC). "Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs): Screening and Diagnosis." Division of Birth Defects, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. 13 May 2010. <http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html>.
Top Autism Screening and Diagnosis Related Articles
Autism and CommunicationAutism in children and adults is a developmental disorder, characterized by impaired development in communication, social interaction, and behavior. Autism is classified as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), which is part of a broad spectrum of developmental disorders affecting young children and adults. There are numerous theories and studies about the cause of autism. The treatment model for autism is an educational program that is suitable to an individual's developmental level of performance. There is no "cure" for autism.
Detecting Hearing Loss in ChildrenThere are many degrees of hearing, from normal hearing to deafness. Many states mandate the testing of newborns before leaving the hospital. The risk factors for hearing loss in children include
- a family history of hearing loss,
- frequent ear infections,
- diagnosis of a learning disability,
- syndromes associated with hearing loss,
- speech delay, and
- infectious diseases that cause hearing loss.
- the child not responding to his or her name,
- the child asking for words to be repeated, and
- the child not paying attention to what is being said.
Developmental ScreeningDevelopmental screening helps doctors and nurses to know if a child is learning basic skills at the right time or if the child might have a problem. Behavioral and developmental disabilities include autism, intellectual disability (also known as mental retardation), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Early intervention and detection of delays can help a child to reach his/her full potential.
Genetic CounselingYour health care provider may refer you to a genetic professional. Universities and medical centers also often have affiliated genetic professionals, or can provide referrals to a genetic professional or genetics clinic. Genetic counseling provides patients and family members the tools to make the right choice in regard to test for a disease or condition.
Visual Field TestA visual field test is used to assess a person's central and peripheral vision and detect signs of glaucoma damage to the optic nerve, eyelid conditions such as ptosis, optic nerve disease, and diseases that affect visual pathways in the brain.