What should one expect when going for Autism Evaluation
Autism is a developmental disorder that can look very different from one child to another. An autism diagnosis or evaluation process covers a spectrum of children with varied range of skills and impairments. This diversity makes it difficult to correctly diagnose the condition – sometimes autistic children may be mistakenly diagnosed with another disorder like ADHD, or are told that there is nothing wrong.
This makes it very important for parents to know about what to expect when they go for an autism evaluation for their children. Read on to know more about best practices and questions you should be asking your doctor about autism evaluation.
Importance of Social Communication Issues
Problems in social communication and interaction are usually the first possible signs of autism. This can cause a lot of confusion as children with social problems may not necessarily have autism.Arriving at the right diagnosis requires gathering and interpreting a lot of information about the child. Therefore, children should receive an assessment that goes beyond screening and diagnostic tools to get the full picture.
Pediatricians or other experts use a variety of screeners when evaluating whether a child has autism or not. These are the first steps before the formal evaluation begins. Some are basic questionnaires that parents need to fill out, while others are assessments done by experts. The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, or M-CHAT, is one commonly used questionnaire that helps identify red flags. The M-CHAT asks questions about behaviors that might indicate autism. Similarly, the Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children, or STAT, is another screener that probes for autism symptom behaviors in more detail than the other screeners mentioned. Screener results alone should never be considered a diagnosis.
Instruments for Diagnosis
If a screener indicates that a child may have ASD, he should then receive a comprehensive evaluation from someone who specializes in diagnosing autism. The first process is evaluation with a diagnostic instrument such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, or the ADOS. It is a test with various modules for children of different age groups. The purpose of ADOS is to evaluate the social skills and repetitive behaviors the child displays during the test. Here, the evaluator pays attention to things like whether a child asks for help when he needs it, gives others a chance to speak, and follows along with changes of subject.
Although screeners and diagnostic tools are a great way to gather information, they need to be used with other information from someone who knows the child. A full evaluation includes thorough interview with the child’s parents and covers general development and current concerns. It should also closely investigate ASD-related symptoms. Parents may also be asked to fill out another special questionnaires as well.
It is important that early developmental information be included during the interview, because there are many circumstances where symptoms are more obvious at an earlier age, but diminish as the child grows. Having the right information about early development can help the provider make a more accurate diagnosis.
If the child goes to school, it may also help if the practitioner can speak to the child’s teacher to get their point of view. Ideally, the expert should visit the child’s school to observe him there.
An autism assessment should also include some amount of cognitive testing. It gives the person doing the assessment another chance to examine the child’s behavior under different circumstances. Some kids will do better during a more structured cognitive test when they are answering specific questions, or they may get upset during the cognitive testing if they don’t know the answer to a particular question. Cognitive testing also helps find out how the child thinks, and helps the evaluator in making an accurate diagnosis.
What to ask an autism specialist
After you get information from screeners, it is best to work with someone who has experience and expertise in diagnosing children on the autism spectrum. Parents can ask some questions to find out more about a specialist’s experience. For instance:
- Find out about their training and experience.
- Find if they have had specific training in assessment of people on the spectrum.
- Find out what they plan to do as part of this assessment.
- Ask if they will be contacting your child’s teacher or pediatrician.
It is important that you find an expert who can answer your questions readily and makes you feel comfortable. An expert who takes your concern seriously and is experienced in assessing ASD can help you get an accurate diagnosis.