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Diagnostic Evaluations for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

There's no blood test or quick lab test to determine if a child has autism – which can make it difficult to diagnose and get to the root of your child’s symptoms. At Children’s Health, our trained specialists know how to make diagnoses based on information from parents, and on observing and testing your child in our clinic. We then will pinpoint what’s causing your child’s symptoms and plan for any educational or medical services they might need.

What are Diagnostic Evaluations for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Diagnostic evaluations are tests that help us know if your child has an autism spectrum disorder.

We typically start with a test called the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule™ (ADOS). During the ADOS, a specialist will watch and interact with your child in an observation room. In this room, the specialist can see how your child reacts to a variety of structured conversations or social scenarios (for example, how they respond when you tell them it's time to put their blocks away). These tests are available for newborns to 6-year-olds.

Language disorders are often confused with autism, especially for children under age 3. If your child is under 3, a speech pathologist will meet with your child to rule out any language disorders that could be confused with autism.

What are the benefits of Diagnostic Evaluations for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Once we get the results back from the evaluation, we’ll be able to tell if your child has autism – which is the first step to getting your child the support they need to be as happy and healthy as possible. After the diagnosis, we’ll give you information on family support groups and help you connect to resources at our Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CADD).

What to expect with Diagnostic Evaluations for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

When testing for autism, we will guide your child through a series of tests and evaluations to help us understand if they have autism. We make this process as easy as possible on kids, using activities like games and puzzles to help us observe their behavior and give us the information we need to diagnose them.

What to expect before a diagnostic evaluation?

Your pediatrician will refer you to CADD. For insurance purposes, you will need to submit your child’s school or medical records that support the symptoms of autism.

What to expect during a diagnostic evaluation?

For children under age 5, the evaluations are about two hours. For children older than 5, an evaluation can take up to six hours. We take plenty of breaks for the bathroom and lunch.

During the autism evaluation, you’ll play with your child in the observation room. Then our psychologist will engage with your child to set up play-based scenarios that allow us to look for any symptoms of autism.

When we do the ADOS, our psychologist will be one-on-one with your child, but you can observe what’s happening in the room next door. During this testing, the specialist can see how your child reacts to a variety of structured conversations or social scenarios. For example, we might ask your child if they’d like to go to a birthday party and see how they react.

What to expect after a diagnostic evaluation?

We share initial feedback from the evaluations within two weeks. You can expect a full report within one month, which lists all the recommendations and services available to support your child.

How do I prepare my child for Diagnostic Evaluations for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

A diagnostic evaluation feels like play to most children. We have puzzles, toys and games for children to play with during the evaluation. A lot of families tell their child before their appointment, “We’re going to play some fun games today” or “We’re going to a place where we can play with new toys.”

Make sure your child has a good night’s sleep and breakfast before their evaluation. Feel free to bring along any snacks or special items that might make your child feel more comfortable.

What questions should I ask my provider about Diagnostic Evaluations for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Good questions include:

  • How many children do you evaluate for autism each year?
  • How do you support families after diagnosis?

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can autism be caused by parents?

    We get asked this question daily. Many of our families deal with comments from others who think autism is a result of parenting, but that’s not true. There’s not a single cause for why your child has autism. Research shows us that a child with autism has a brain that’s wired differently, but scientists are still learning how and why that happens. In some patients with autism, doctors can find a genetic abnormality that helps explain why they have autism. Sometimes these genetic changes are inherited from a parent who may not have autism, but many times these are new genetic changes that happened spontaneously in the child.

  • What should I do if my child is diagnosed with autism?

    We know an autism diagnosis can be overwhelming. One of the first things we’ll talk about is what causes autism, what we know about it, and what we don’t know. Then, we’ll connect you with supportive resources through CADD. Children’s Health is here for you and your child every step of the way, and we’ll continue to provide the care your family needs as your child grows up.

  • How is autism diagnosed?

    At this point, there's not a blood test or other quick lab test that diagnoses autism. Instead, we use tools, such as the ADOS. These are detailed tests where we watch and interact with your child and determine if their symptoms meet the criteria for an autism diagnosis.