What can parents expect at a diagnostic evaluation?

If ASD is suspected, a multidisciplinary evaluation should be conducted as soon as possible. During these evaluations, the child and parents may meet with a number of specialists, including a pediatric neurologist or developmental pediatrician, psychologist, speech-language pathologist, and occupational or physical therapist. Each professional will conduct part of the evaluation, and the results will be summarized in a written report. In order 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; American Psychological Association, 2013).

The evaluation may consist of the following components:

1. Medical and developmental history

2. Autism testing

3. Psychological testing

4. Speech-language assessment

5. Occupational or physical therapy assessment

Are any medical tests used to diagnose ASD?

Although there is no diagnostic laboratory test for ASD, tests are often recommended for the following reasons:

1. to search for a cause

2. to find out if there are other medical problems that might look like autism (e.g., hearing loss)

3. to detect additional medical problems that might be co-existing with ASD

Recent Changes to the Diagnostic Criteria

In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which includes changes to its definition of autism. The previous version of the DSM listed Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS) as distinct diagnoses under the broader category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders. The DSM-5 includes these separate diagnoses under a single umbrella term, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and makes changes to the way ASD is diagnosed.

The DSM-5 advises that individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Disorder, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified should be given the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The DSM-5 requires an individual to meet a specific number of criteria from two major categories. To be diagnosed with ASD, a person must have difficulty with social communication and interaction, and display restricted repetitive behaviors, interests and activities. The diagnostician may rank the characteristics based on level of severity and describe the support the individual needs.

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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