Worried about autism? Find out what doctors suggest for screenings, exams and tests to help identify the signs of autism in your child.
Autism spectrum disorder affects about 1 in 110 children in the United States. If you are like most parents, you may be concerned about the possibility of autism in your family. Luckily, your pediatrician can suggest certain screenings, exams and tests to help identify the signs of autism in your child. In fact, some governmental agencies suggest routinely testing young children for autistic disorder at age-specific milestones.
What is autism spectrum disorder?
Once referred to as simply autism, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a term that encompasses the many symptoms and developmental disabilities associated with autistic disorder. Children with autism often experience developmental delays in motor, communicative and social skills, which can greatly impact quality of life. With severe autism, the child may be unable to socially interact with others. Mild autism can cause speech/language problems, physical awkwardness and social isolation. Oftentimes, autistic children also react negatively to loud noises, strong odors and touch. Parents of young children should watch for signs of autistic disorder, such as:
- Blank expression
- Unable to make eye contact
- Minimal or no interaction
- Deficient motor skills
- Lack of verbal or physical gestures
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, behavior and developmental screenings are helpful for diagnosing autism spectrum disorders. Developmental screening involves the child’s pediatrician checking for developmental delays in speech, motor skills, social interaction skills and behavioral reactions. The CDC recommends that developmental screenings be performed at regular intervals as a part of well-child visits throughout the child’s life in order to identify milestone deficiencies. Recommended screenings for young children include 9 months, 18 months and 24 months of age. To evaluate for autism, your child’s pediatrician will observe your child playing, walking and interacting with various people and objects. Parents are also asked to answer a questionnaire about the child’s development level to help pinpoint deficiencies or abnormalities.
Diagnostic Evaluation Exam
The second part of diagnosing autistic disorder is assessing the child for physical signs of autism. This often includes a hearing test, sight test, genetic testing and a neurological exam to look for abnormalities or delayed responses. Diagnostic evaluations are commonly performed by a team of specialists, including pediatricians with special training in child development, child psychiatrists, child psychologists and child neurologists. Parent-participation is also important for accurate test results, especially when testing infants or young children for autism. This kind of in-depth testing often begins after a referral from the child’s pediatrician that symptoms of autism may be present or if a sibling has been diagnosed with autism, which increases the child’s risk for the disorder.
AAP Recommended Screenings
The American Academy of Pediatrics also suggests certain screening tools to identify early signs of autism spectrum disorder. Screening tools include a question/answer brochure for parents titled, “Is Your One-Year-Old Communicating with You?” The AAP recommends that pediatricians give all parents the brochure at the child’s one- year well-baby checkup to help parents identify signs of autism in their child. Another AAP recommended screening is the CDC/AAP growth chart, which lists developmental milestones, screening recommendations and normal growth milestones in an easy- to-understand chart. This chart is provided to pediatricians so that they can hang the publication in their waiting room as a tool for parents to identify the physical and developmental signs of autism. The AAP also recommends screening tools be age appropriate and that pediatricians also check for symptoms of high-functioning autism, which is different than classic autism.