What does the diagnostic process entail?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians screen for ASD during well visits at 18 and 24 months and at any time a parent raises a concern. This involves asking the parent about their child's progress toward typical milestones. They may use a screening instruments, such as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) or the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS). If the screening indicates red flags for autism, the pediatrician may recommend that the child participate in a diagnostic evaluation.

There are currently no medical tests to diagnose autism, so specialized diagnosticians (neurologists, psychologists, developmental pediatricians, or psychiatrists) use specific observational tools to determine if the individual meets the criteria. The gold standard assessment is the ADOS/ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule/Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised). These tools assist the diagnostician in observing the individual in different scenarios and extensively interviewing the caregiver. Though most are children, individuals can be diagnosed at any age. Some diagnoses include a level 1-3 notation, with 3 denoting the most significant support needs.

To qualify for a diagnosis of ASD, the individual must meet the criteria established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Download our reprint of the DSM-5 here. In 2013, ASD became the formal diagnosis, replacing these previously used terms: autistic disorder (autism), Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

Learn the Signs

The CDC’s Learn the Signs, Act Early campaign is dedicated to sharing information about developmental milestones from ages 3 months to 5 years. A variety of free materials is available in many languages so parents and professionals can learn about expected behaviors and skills for each age level. Call us at 800.4.AUTISM for more information about milestones, screenings, and intervention.

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