From the moment a parent or caregiver becomes concerned about a child’s social, educational, or communicative development, figuring out what to do next can feel overwhelming and confusing. Speaking with your child’s pediatrician should always be the first step, and your pediatrician should begin conducting regular screenings for developmental issues during your child’s well visits at 18 months.
For children presenting with symptoms of autism, an early autism evaluation can provide clarity and a path forward. The earlier autism is diagnosed, the better the outcome, as children can benefit from interventions like ABA therapy sooner.
Who can evaluate my child for autism?
The first step in receiving an autism evaluation for your child is to find a qualified evaluator. While not an exhaustive list, child psychologists, developmental pediatricians, child psychiatrists, and pediatric neurologists are among the medical and behavioral health professionals who can conduct an autism evaluation and deliver a medical diagnosis of autism.
Your pediatrician will be able to recommend a skilled and qualified practitioner able to conduct a medical assessment for autism.
How will my child be evaluated for autism?
The criteria for a medical diagnosis of autism can be found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a standardized set of diagnostic criteria used by medical and behavioral health professionals to diagnose autism for more than 10 years.
The evaluator determines if your child exhibits persistent challenges across three areas of social communication and interaction:
- Challenges in social-emotional reciprocity: Not engaging in back-and-forth conversation, reduced sharing of interests or emotion, and a failure to initiate social interactions.
- Challenges communicating nonverbally: A lack of eye contact or abnormalities in body language, a lack of facial expressions, and poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication.
- Challenges in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships: Difficulty engaging in play or making friends, a lack of interest in peers, and difficulty adjusting behavior to various social contexts.
To be diagnosed with autism, a child must also exhibit at least two of four types of repetitive behaviors:
- Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements: Repetitive use of objects (like lining up toys or flipping objects) or a repetitive use of phrases they have heard.
- Insistence on sameness: An inflexible adherence to routines, (including extreme distress at small changes), difficulties with greeting rituals, or need to take same route or eat same food every day.
- Highly restricted, fixated interests: Interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (like a strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects).
- Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input: An apparent indifference to pain/temperature, an adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, or a visual fascination with lights or movement.
What to expect after an autism evaluation
Once the evaluation is complete, the evaluator provides a comprehensive diagnostic report, which may be up to 20 pages long. The report will summarize your child’s medical history as well as any concerns you may have and will outline in detail the specific tests the evaluator conducted, scores from those tests, diagnostic conclusions, and their recommendations for what to do next.
Regardless of the outcome of the evaluation, the report is an important part of your child’s medical records. If your child is diagnosed with autism, the report will be used to secure future treatment and school services and will always be required by your insurance provider when seeking authorization for ABA therapy services.
Talk to your child’s pediatrician to see if an autism evaluation is right for your child.
Our intake team is also ready to assist you and your family and answer any questions you may have about ABA therapy or next steps after an autism diagnosis. Contact us here for more information.
Inner Circle Autism Network does not conduct medical evaluations for autism.