You may have noticed that your child seems different from other children in specific ways. Maybe a pediatrician, teacher, or childcare provider has brought some things to your attention, and you're wondering whether your child may have autism spectrum disorder. However, you may also be thinking that your family is getting along just fine and doesn't need any interventions or accommodations. It’s likely you’re wondering whether you should seek a diagnosis or leave well enough alone. Fortunately, there are resources available if you're hoping to get some answers and support for your journey in parenting a child with special needs.
The Benefits of an Early Autism Diagnosis
When it comes to diagnosing autism spectrum disorder, professionals agree that earlier is better. This is because, although there is no cure for autism, many children learn to successfully navigate the world with help from therapies that are tailored to their needs.
The sooner a child begins treatment, the easier it is to internalize and practice helpful strategies. For example, a child with a speech delay may receive speech therapy. Once communication skills begin to improve, many other areas of that child's life may start to follow suit.
On the other hand, if you have an older child with suspected autism, it's never too late to verify the diagnosis and begin therapy. There is evidence that interventions can be very effective at any age.
However, it's easier when a person with autism doesn't have to begin by unlearning old habits to make room for new ones. If you or others in your child's care team think an assessment is needed, it's best not to put it off. The sooner you can get your questions answered, the sooner you can get your child needed assistance.
How Autism Therapies Can Help Your Child
In addition to speech therapy, occupational therapy and social-emotional skills training may be offered to families of children with autism. The purpose of these programs is to develop not only the skills of the child but also those of parents and caregivers. As your child progresses through their therapy sessions, you go from being an observer to an active participant so you can reinforce your child's learning and development.
Autism spectrum disorder has many different manifestations, so there's no way to know in advance what combination of therapies will be recommended once your child has a diagnosis. However, you can expect it to be tailored to your child's individual strengths and struggles, as well as school- and family-related goals.
Without a diagnosis, it can be challenging to figure out how best to help your child communicate well, form relationships, and get the most out of school. An autism diagnosis may also open up opportunities for special programming, assistance with medical bills, and other support depending on your family's circumstances.
WPS has a reputation for creating industry-leading assessment instruments that are used by clinicians around the world. We invite you to learn more about autism-related behaviors and strengths, as well as the evaluations that are often used to diagnose autism spectrum disorders.
What to Expect at Your Child's Autism Assessment Appointment
You've had some concerns about your child's development, and the pediatrician agrees that a comprehensive developmental evaluation is in order. You may have blocked off several hours for a developmental pediatrics visit, and you're wondering what to expect. That's only natural. When you know what the day will look like, you'll be in a better position to help put your child's mind at ease. You should ask your child's healthcare provider exactly what’s in store, but most autism assessment appointments have certain things in common.
Pre-Appointment Screenings and Interviews
Not all autism assessments are done in a single sitting. Often, the process begins with developmental screening tools and interviews with parents, caregivers, and teachers. The screening tools can be completed by a pediatrician or parent and are designed to present a picture of the child's overall development. For example, depending on the child's age, the screener may request that a short sentence be repeated or that the child string beads or cereal onto a shoelace.
Interviewing the adults in the child's life is an important step toward getting a sense of the child's strengths and challenges. These questionnaires may give insight into where the child is struggling and which behaviors contribute to difficulties at school or within the family. When you complete the pre-appointment items ahead of time, it gives the clinician a chance to get to know something about your child before conducting the in-person assessment.
Clinician Conversations with the Child
Although an autism assessment tool, such as ADOSTM-2, is a standardized evaluation tool, you won't see your child filling out bubbles on a multiple-choice form. Instead, the clinician will be observing your child's responses to various stimuli. It may look to you like a friendly conversation and play session.
To prevent the child from getting distracted or looking to you for coaching, you may be able to observe the interaction from an observation room with a one-way mirror so your child can't see you. This part of the assessment usually takes about an hour, and your child should have a chance to take a break during the session.
Cognitive Assessment Games
If your child's care team orders a cognitive assessment, such as an IQ test, it could be scheduled for the same day as the autism assessment or on a different day. This type of test can take one to three hours, with the child taking breaks as needed.
Many children enjoy this type of evaluation because of all the games and puzzles that it includes. Again, it may look like playtime, but the clinician is making precise observations about the inner workings of your child's brain.
Follow-up, Results, and Next Steps
A week or two after the assessment is complete, you should receive test results. They will explain the interactions as well as what the clinician learned from each interaction. You may have another appointment to review the results with the clinician and learn what further testing or therapy options may be on the horizon. For more details about autism screening and diagnostic tools, please visit our resources page.