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When to Screen Your Child for Autism

When it comes to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), early intervention using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is key for the best treatment outcomes. Most children can be accurately diagnosed by around the age of 2, but signs of autism may present themselves during the first year of life. Your child’s pediatrician should begin looking for signs of developmental conditions like ASD starting at their first checkup. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all children be screened for autism at their 18-month and 24-month well-child visits, even if they have not exhibited signs of autism.

There are several different tools your child’s healthcare provider can choose from to screen for autism. The most common of which is the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers – Revised with follow-up, or M-CHAT-R/F for short. The M-CHAT-R/F is a simple questionnaire for parents or caregivers to fill out, which asks questions that help pediatricians identify areas of concern and scores the child’s risk for ASD. Questions are in pass/fail format (previously yes/no) and designed to be easy for parents or caregivers to understand (e.g., “If you point at something across the room, does your child look at it?”).

Autism Screening Versus Diagnosis

While a screening tool like the M-CHAT-R/F may point to autism, it is only a preliminary test and is not used as a basis for diagnosis. Similarly, if your child was screened and it did not point to autism, but you still have concerns, remember that no screening test for autism is 100% accurate. You may seek an assessment from an autism specialist regardless of screening results.

To meet insurance standards, a formal assessment is required. Some of the most common evaluation tools include the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT), Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), and Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS). Only autism specialists are trained to use these tools.

If your child screens for autism or you are worried about ASD, it is best to seek an evaluation from a qualified medical professional or psychologist without delay.

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