Developmental Screenings & Diagnosis

The purpose of a developmental screening is to identify the early warning signs for possible Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other Development Disabilities (DD) in young children.  There are many different developmental screening tools available that can be used by professionals to determine developmental delays.  A developmental screening typically consists of a short questionnaire that parents fill out, followed by a short play session and observation with the child, to determine if children are learning the basic skills when they should be in one or more of the following areas of development: health, language, communication, emotional, social, physical and cognitive.

Developmental screenings can be provided by a number of different professionals in community, health care and school settings.  A physician will typically ask parents questions and play with the child during regular visits while he watches for any early warning signs.  A Pre-K teacher will also watch her students for early warning signs.  If either suspects or has any concerns, they will talk to the parent and recommend further testing.

When a young child is positively identified as a concern for an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Developmental Delay (DD), they will refer you to an Autism specialist or a team of specialists for a more comprehensive evaluation.  A team of specialists may include: 

  • Pediatric Neurologist  

  • Audiologist

  • Child Psychologist

  • Speech Pathologist

  • Developmental Pediatrician

  • Special Education Teacher 

Medical Diagnosis: There are no medical tests to diagnose Autism; however, some medical tests may be used to rule out other medical conditions that resemble ASD such as but not limited to: Hearing test may be done to determine if there are any hearing problems that may be causing developmental delays, blood work may be done to rule out fragile X syndrome and other conditions that may resemble ASD, and a MRI may be done to ensure nothing else is affecting the brain.  A Pediatrician will also go over a complete medial history of the family and of the mother’s pregnancy. 

After other medical conditions are ruled out, an ASD medical assessment will be done to confirm an ASD Diagnosis.  This typically consists of parents filling out a detailed questionnaires to include parents observations of the child and an observation will be done by a team of specialists of the individual’s communication, social interaction, and his or her activities and interests.  A Medical diagnosis is guided by criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-IV). 

Once an ASD diagnosis is confirmed, the child will be referred for services his/her individual needs.  These services may include, but are not limited to: Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, ABA Therapy, and the Special Education Department at their school. 

Note: A diagnosis by an experienced medical professional can be considered reliable by age 2.  However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. 

Educational Diagnosis:  In the United States, an autism diagnosis comes from a medical doctor, a psychologist, a neurologist or some other member of the medical profession.  In several states, however, it is also possible to receive an "educational diagnosis" for ASD.  If your child has received a medical diagnosis of ASD it does not automatically mean that he or she will receive an educational diagnosis for services.  The educational program must do their own evaluation to see if the child meets their criteria to receive educational services.  An educational diagnosis is conducted by a team of specialist such as a special needs teacher, a child psychologist and an ASD specialist, to determine eligibility for special education services.  If the process indicates that a student has developmental delay or ASD, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) will be made to provide the child with appropriate services that address the student’s individual needs at school.

Note: Children with ASD may have a medical diagnosis only, an educational diagnosis only, or both a medical and an educational diagnosis.

We know that going through the diagnosis process can be a stressful and worrisome time; but it's important to know that you're not alone, and that we're here to help!