If your child needs an autism assessment, you may be wondering what is involved in determining a diagnosis. There are a number of components that can be used to test and evaluate an autism diagnosis, and some of these components are done by different professionals who have the specific expertise. Not everything will be done in an autism assessment, and any components are done based on individual need.
Hearing Screening: When a child suffers from a hearing impairment it can affect learning, as well as speech and language development. If autism is suspected because of a communication problem, often a hearing evaluation is done.
Developmental/Cognitive Testing: Depending on the needs, this is either done by a brief screening or with a more thorough assessment, and it is performed with a standard test. If a child is under the age of six, these tests can be changeable and don’t provide the best prediction of future abilities. However, they can give specialists an idea of the developmental level with compared to peers of the same age. After the age of six, the IQ is more stable. Since autism is a developmental disorder, it’s important to get an understanding of the overall developmental level in order to determine if social and communication development have kept up. These tests can include pictures, drawing, cards, matching items, and other games.
Speech and Language: This assessment can be done with structured testing, clinical observation, or screening activities, and focuses on both language and speech. The language portion will help specialists know how much children understand and how well the child is using the language when he or she communicates with others. Speech will look at articulation, lisp, volume, speed, and stuttering. Specialists want to look at how children are using language socially, whether it’s talking about interests or asking for help.
Child Observation: This is done either in the classroom setting or home to look for information about the child’s behavior. A specialist will observe a child working on activities that are appropriate for his or her developmental level and interests.
Parent Interviews: Parents will fill out questionnaires or be interviewed about a child’s developmental and medical history. This is helpful for background information. Some questions include pregnancy, labor and delivery, any medical illness, and extended family history. Parents can use this time to get their own questions answered.
Adaptive Functioning: This refers to assessing functional skills and determining the level of independence. This assessment will look at functional communication, social skills, and self-help skills.
Genetic Testing: Due to high rates of genetic conditions and abnormalities in children with autism, genetic testing is recommended, and it can be useful for other family members. It also helps clarify the child’s learning and behavior profile, so there can be more targeted treatment.