Who Can Diagnose Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be diagnosed by a physician, such as a developmental pediatrician or pediatric neurologist, or a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. A parent often first mentions concerns about autism to their pediatrician at a well-child visit. Physicians may sometimes use screening measures to assess for autism, however a diagnosis should not be given based on the results of a screening alone. Positive screenings for autism should be followed up with comprehensive autism spectrum disorder assessments by a qualified professional.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute of Mental Health, Center for Disease Control, and Autism Speaks, among other professional organizations, recommend a comprehensive evaluation that includes formal diagnostic tools for assessing symptoms of autism such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). A comprehensive evaluation may also include assessment of a child’s cognitive level (thinking skills), language level, and adaptive behavior (age-appropriate daily living skills). A recent study in Autism Research found that rapid screening measures, or checklists administered during a short doctor’s visit, have a much greater likelihood of misdiagnosing children who have other developmental disabilities.
What Is Included in a Comprehensive Autism Evaluation?
Our assessments for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) range from age 24 months through adulthood. No single tool should be used as the basis for a diagnosis. Our comprehensive evaluations used a combination of standardized autism measures such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – 2nd Edition (ADOS-2) and the Childhood Autism Rating Scales – 2nd Edition (CARS-II) in addition to behavioral checklists, interviews, and observations to evaluate:
- Developmental and medical history
- Cognitive abilities and academic achievement
- Social competence and social perception
- Emotional and behavioral functioning
- Communication and language skills
- Perceptual-motor/visual-spatial ability
- Assessment of attention and memory as indicated
The ApaCenter may also recommend a full medical evaluation to rule out other medical conditions (e.g., hearing loss) or other developmental disabilities that may be causing symptoms. Diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder takes particular care, because it often appears very different among individuals, and symptoms often change with development.
Why is an Assessment Important?
Comprehensive autism spectrum disorder assessments can help to:
- Identify specific strengths and weaknesses unique to each individual
- Recommend appropriate interventions to compensate for difficulties
- Rule out other difficulties that may be contributing to symptoms
- Help obtain appropriate school/college services through special education or Section 504
- Gain access to insurance and state benefits and services such as applied behavior analysis (ABA)
Additionally, after a child is diagnosed, it is important to continue with regular assessments to ensure that the individual is making progress with any treatments or services they receive. If a child is not making progress, the treatment plan may need to be revised or addition medical assessments may be needed.
Please contact the ApaCenter at (512) 891-1500 or email info@ApaCenter.com for any additional questions or to discuss and schedule an evaluation for your or your child.
Adjusting to a Diagnosis
Parents never forget the first time that they receive a diagnosis of autism for their child. The experience can be stressful and overwhelming, but it can also be a positive first step to getting needed support. It is likely that you will experience a range of emotions that may take some time to cope with. Remember that you are making an enormous difference in you’re child’s life, and to make that happen you need to take care of yourself first.
Parents can find some tips at AutismSpeaks.org at this link for coping with the range of emotions you and your family may have in the first few days.