Autism: Making the Diagnosis
With no medical tests available, diagnosing autism requires careful observation and screening.
Your pediatrician should be on the lookout for any abnormal development
clues when you take your child in for well-baby visits.
Diagnosing ASD requires two steps, according to the CDC:
- Developmental screening and surveillance during well-child visits to the
doctor. Screening tests to look for developmental disabilities and to be sure
your child has met developmental "milestones" such as talking and
walking are recommended at ages 9 months, 18 months, 24 months, and 30 months.
The screenings should be done routinely; if not, parents are advised to ask for
them during the well-child visits. The screening helps your child's
pediatrician identify possible developmental delays that might suggest autism
or such problems as language or thinking skill deficits. In recent years,
screening tools have been developed to better identify children not just with
classic autism but with milder forms of ASD, such as Asperger's syndrome. A
variety of standardized screening tools is available. Typically, they employ a
checklist or questionnaire format and have a cutoff "score."
- A comprehensive evaluation, including observations by your pediatrician and
interviews with you as parents to find out more about your child's
developmental history. It should also include assessment of language and speech
and the use of one or more autism diagnostic tools. Among them are the Autism
Diagnosis Interview, the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, and The Gilliam Autism
If your child is at high risk for having an autism spectrum disorder because
a parent or a sibling has been diagnosed, be aware that more intense screening
or earlier screening may be needed.
If an autism spectrum disorder is suspected, you may be referred to a
developmental pediatrician or another health care specialist.
Although hearing a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder can be
upsetting, the earlier the diagnosis is made, the earlier the interventions can
begin, according to the CDC. If the diagnosis is delayed, the chance to
intervene early and improve your child's life is reduced or lost.
How do you know if your child has autism? Watch CNN's video.)