The Autism Diagnosis Process: What to Expect from Start to Finish

If you’ve just begun to suspect that your child may be on the autism spectrum but haven’t had that diagnosis confirmed yet, you probably have a lot of questions. What will the screening and diagnosis process be like? How long will it take to find out the results? What is the likelihood that my child has autism, and what can be done if he or she does?

Well, don’t worry too much. You’re certainly not the first parent to go through this, and the process is likely not as difficult as you think. However, knowing as much as possible about how it all works before getting started can help you feel more prepared and confident, as well as figure out what questions you want to ask. It can also help you explain to your child what is going to happen, so that they can be more relaxed in this new environment with new people and activities.

Now let’s take a look at the process of getting your child’s autism diagnosis.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Oksana Kuzmina
Photo: Adobe Stock/Oksana Kuzmina

Before you start

Just because you’re seeing developmental delays or behavioral issues in your child doesn’t mean that he or she necessarily has autism. There may be another disorder present, or your child may simply be a “late bloomer.” In any case, there are some things you can be doing before (or, in some cases, instead of) having your child evaluated for an autism diagnosis.

There may be some diseases or disorders you can rule out before you have your child evaluated for autism. Take your child to their regular doctor for a checkup and ask for a vision test, hearing test, and lead level test. If there is a problem in any of these areas, it could be causing the delays and behaviors that mimic autism spectrum disorder.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Barselona Dreams
Photo: Adobe Stock/Barselona Dreams

There are also some things you can do to get started on helping your child while you’re waiting to have him or her screened. Contact your local school district or early intervention agency. They may not be able to provide you with a diagnosis, but they can assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses and begin to intervene with appropriate (and often free) education if your child meets the qualifications.

Any or all of these steps can also be completed after or in conjunction with developmental screening while you wait for your comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.

Step 1: Developmental screening

Generally, developmental screenings take place at your child’s regular pediatric appointments every few months. However, screening that is specific to ASD should be done at your 18-month visit and your 24-month visit. If your child is at an increased risk for autism (i.e. if he or she has a sibling with autism) or shows signs of autism, additional screening may be needed. Pre-term birth or low birth weight may also be reasons for extra developmental screenings.

If concerns about autism spectrum disorder are raised during your child’s developmental screening appointments, you may be referred for a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.

Click “next” to learn what happens in a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.

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