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Screening for Autism
by Rebecca J. Stahl, MA
During regular check-ups, your doctor will examine your child to see if they have any developmental delays. These well-child check-ups are typically scheduled for:
To look for developmental delays, the doctor will focus on your child’s social skills, language skills, and behavior. Your child's' doctor may talk to and play with your child. You will be asked questions about your child’s development.
This is a good time for you to talk openly to your child's doctor. You may have concerns about how your child is growing and behaving. Tell the doctor if you think your child is not developing normally, or has regressed. It is very important to share these concerns.
Examples of tests that are used to screen for developmental delays include:
Your doctor may also give a screening test to check specifically for autism. These screening tools focus on the criteria for diagnosing autism. The criteria are based on the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. These tests are required for screening use in some states.
One test that is used is called the Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (CHAT). It is for children as young as 18 months. This is when autism is typically diagnosed. Some samples of the types of questions in CHAT include:
The screening may show that your child has signs of autism. If so, the next step would be to work with a professional who specializes in the condition. This may be a child psychologist. The specialist will do further testing.
It is important to remember that if your child is in the high-risk category, your doctor will screen him or her sooner for developmental delays and autism. Your child is considered high-risk if he or she:
Autism spectrum disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml. Updated October 2016. Accessed March 14, 2017.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html. Updated October 21, 2016. Accessed March 14, 2017.
Autism spectrum disorders. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed March 14, 2017.
Behrman RE, et al. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.
Goetz CG. Goetz’s Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2007.
Recommended screening tools. First Signs website. Available at:
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Accessed March 14, 2017.
Stern TA, et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2008.
Last reviewed March 2017 by Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 3/15/2015
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