There are many early signs of autism, such as a lack of eye contact, delayed speech, and showing few signs of emotion. However, it’s impossible to know if a child is on the autism spectrum unless they undergo screening for autism spectrum disorder. Learn more about these screening tools, and where to find the right education programs for children with autism.
How Can I Tell If My Child Needs Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorder?
The first question you should ask is, “What is autism spectrum disorder?” The definition of autism is “a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact.”
Most early signs of autism revolve around a child’s inability to communicate or express emotions. Some common symptoms in toddlers include:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Lack of gestures such as waving or pointing
- No response to hearing their name
- Not expressing signs of happiness like smiling and laughter
Reduced speech and sounds or delayed speech and sounds (i.e., babbling, cooing)
As your child gets older, they might display other symptoms such as:
- Aggressive behavior towards others and self
- Dislike of physical contact
- Repeating words, phrases or actions
- Lack of social skills
- Trouble understanding other people’s feelings
- Impulsive behavior and have a short attention span
- Strong reactions to stimuli and environmental or routine changes
- Strange eating and sleeping habits
If your child exhibits such behavior, you should consult a pediatrician. Luckily, doctors should screen for such actions during your first visit.
You can also use The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised with Follow-Up (M-CHAT-R/F; Robins, Fein, & Barton, 2009) – a two-stage parent-report screening tool. This checklist is for children between 16 and 30 months old. Children who exhibit autistic-like behavior should undergo more thorough screening.
Other, less common autism screening tests include:
- Ages and Stages Questionnaires SE-2 (ASQ-SE2)
- Pervasive Developmental Disorders Screening Test-II (PDDST-II)
- Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS)
Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Screening for autism spectrum disorder can be incredibly difficult because unlike a blood test, there’s no formal medical test that can deliver conclusive results.
Your doctor will observe your child’s behavior and pay attention to how they react to hearing their name, attempt to get your attention, and more. These observations, combined with family history, parental input, and health analyses, determine if a child needs early intervention for autism. Many resources for autism parents can help you decide when to look for formal screenings and how to best support your child.
Additionally, your child needs to undergo developmental screening to determine if they’re meeting the necessary learning skills when they should. The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children undergo such testing during:
- Nine months
- 18 months
- 24 or 30 months
Parents and doctors will seek out the child’s behavior, such as:
- Showing affection towards loved ones
- Pointing to new and exciting things
- Identifying everyday objects such as phones, cars, and chairs
- Being able to eat from a spoon and drink from a cup
A missed milestone may indicate a more severe problem, and a professional might suggest additional screening.
Additionally, the AAP suggests children should receive screening for autism spectrum disorder during their 18-month and 24-month well-child doctor visits.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
Note that screening isn’t an exact science. A positive or negative test isn’t a diagnosis. After all, many common autism symptoms, such as emotional outbursts or strong reactions to stimuli, are healthy behaviors for children. Plus, many children on the autism spectrum display little to no signs.
Even the M-CHAT isn’t always accurate. One study found that these screenings were only 36% correct for toddlers younger than 20 months and 69% accurate for those 20 months and older. Part of the reason such tests are inaccurate is that parents often don’t recognize certain developmental milestones such as showing off toys or following gazes. Those kids were mistakenly flagged as having autism.
If you’re worried that screening might be incorrect, request an additional formal screening for autism spectrum disorder today. Reach out to an autism treatment center to learn more about applied behavior analysis therapy programs and other interventions that can help your child.