Most people find the diagnosis process quite confronting. It’s not much fun having someone point out all the things that your child can’t do, things that typical children just pick up naturally. But think of this assessment as a benchmark, against which you can measure your child’s progress once they start in an intervention program.
– Seana Smith, mother of four and co-author, Australian autism handbook
Tests and tools for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder
There are standardised tools that help health professionals with diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
When diagnosing ASD, professionals like psychiatrists and psychologists will refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This tool breaks down the signs and symptoms of ASD into categories. It also states how many of these must be present in each category to confirm a diagnosis of ASD.
Some of the other tests and screening measures that can help in the diagnosis of ASD include:
- Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS)
- Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised (ADI-R)
- Childhood Autism Rating Scales, Second Edition (CARS-2)
- Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)
- Developmental Behaviour Checklist (DBC)
- Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)
- Psycho Educational Profile – Third Edition (PEP-3)
- Autism Behaviour Checklist (ABC).
These tools might not identify every child on the spectrum, especially those who have only milder signs of ASD.
Testing for other medical difficulties and delays
Because other medical difficulties sometimes go along with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), your paediatrician might also do other tests, like a physical examination and history, and a hearing test. These tests:
- check for signs of other conditions that might explain your child’s symptoms
- help to identify any other medical problems that might need treatment.
Your child might also have a cognitive assessment (IQ test), which can identify developmental strengths and weaknesses. The assessment also identifies whether a child has an intellectual disability, common in many (but not all) children with ASD.
If your child is very young when he’s diagnosed, he might have an IQ test when he’s older – for example, in the year before he starts school.
Waiting for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder
You might be put on a waiting list for assessment. Try not to see this as a period when nothing happens. If you can, look for options – you might be able to get an assessment sooner.
There are also services that let you start programs and therapies without a diagnosis.
Occasionally, the outcome of your assessment might be a recommended period of ‘watchful waiting’. This means your health professional wants to wait to see whether your child’s symptoms change with a few more months of development. It’s possible the symptoms might resolve or become more pronounced.
If you’re told to wait and watch, again the key is to be proactive:
- Get your child checked every three months.
- Seek a second opinion if you feel you want one.
- Start exploring early intervention options in your area.
For more information on ASD and early intervention options, you could attend a free Early Days workshop in your area. Another option is contacting your state autism association.