Early identification and intervention are crucial for children with autism because they can significantly improve their outcomes and help them reach their full potential. But before a child can receive appropriate services, a thorough evaluation and diagnosis must be made. Two main types of assessments are used to diagnose autism: screening tests and diagnostic assessment tests. Both tests are used by trained professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, or developmental paediatricians.
Autism Screening Tests
Autism screening is a quick, basic test that healthcare providers use to determine whether a child shows signs or symptoms of autism. They are not designed to diagnose autism; instead, they are used to identify children who may be at risk and should receive a full assessment for a diagnosis. Regular check-ups are usually conducted by primary care physicians or other healthcare providers, such as pediatricians.
The most common autism screening tests include:
- The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers-Revised (M-CHAT-R): This is a 23-item questionnaire designed to screen for autism in children between 16 and 30 months. It is used to identify children who may be at risk for autism and require further evaluation.
- The Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS): Developmental Milestones: This is a 10-item questionnaire used to screen for developmental delays in children between birth and six years. It is used to identify children who may be at risk for autism and require further evaluation.
- The Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales DP: This is a 42-item questionnaire that is used to screen for autism in children between the ages of birth and 48 months. It is used to identify children who may be at risk for autism and require further evaluation.
These screening tests are designed to identify children who have behaviors or symptoms associated with autism, such as difficulty with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. They are typically short, taking only 15-20 minutes to administer, and are easy to help in a pediatrician’s office or early childhood center.
If a child screens positive on one of these tests, it does not mean that they have autism. It simply means that they should be referred for further evaluation to a specialist who can conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine if a diagnosis of autism is warranted.
Autism Assessment Tests
An autism assessment is a more detailed, in-depth evaluation conducted by a trained professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, to diagnose autism. It is typically used for children who have already been identified as at risk for autism based on the screening test results.
The assessment typically consists of both a structured interview and an observation session. During the structured interview, the psychologist or psychiatrist will ask questions about the child’s development, behavior, and communication skills. During the observation session, the psychologist or psychiatrist will observe the child in various situations, such as playing with toys or interacting with their peers.
Based on the assessment results, the psychologist or psychiatrist will determine whether the child meets the criteria for an autism diagnosis. If the child is diagnosed with autism, the psychologist or psychiatrist may recommend interventions and therapies.
The most common autism assessment tests include:
- The Autism Diagn Observation Schedule (ADOS-2) is a set of structured tasks and activities to assess a child’s behavior and communication skills. It is used to diagnose autism in children between 2 and 17 years.
- The Autism Diagnosis Interview-Revised (ADI-R): This is a semi-structured interview to assess a child’s behavior and communication skills. It is used to diagnose autism in children between 2 and 17 years.
- The Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS): This rating scale assesses a child’s behavior and communication skills. It is used to diagnose autism in children between 3 and 22 years.
These assessment tests are more extensive than screening tests, taking several hours to administer and covering many skills. They are designed to assess the child’s social interaction, communication, and behavior and to determine if they meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism.
Difference between Autism Screening Tests and Assessment Tests
Screening tests are used to detect the possibility of an autism diagnosis. Healthcare providers, such as pediatricians and family doctors, typically use them at well-child visits. These tests are short and easy to administer, and they may include questionnaires, checklists, and observation of the child’s behavior. Screening tests are used to identify children who may be at risk for autism and who should be referred for further testing.
Assessment tests are used to confirm or rule out an autism diagnosis. These tests are more in-depth and are typically used by psychologists or psychiatrists. Assessment tests may include interviews, questionnaires, checklists, and observation of child behavior observations measure the severity of autism symptoms and help to diagnose the condition.
It is important to note that autism can never be diagnosed using online tests. Many online tests claim to diagnose autism, but they are not scientifically valid and should not be used as a substitute for a professional evaluation. It is always best to seek the opinion of a qualified professional if you suspect your child may have autism.
Overall, screening tests are used to identify children who may be at risk for ASD. Assessment tests are used to confirm a diagnosis and determine the specific symptoms and characteristics of the disorder in an individual child. The assessment test will be more in-depth and specialized; it takes longer and is usually done by a trained specialist, such as a developmental pediatrician or a child psychologist. Parents need to understand that an accurate diagnosis of autism can only be made by a qualified healthcare professional.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, December 6). Screening and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder for healthcare providers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/hcp-screening.html
Fekar Gharamaleki, F., Bahrami, B., & Masumi, J. (2021, August 5). Autism screening tests: A narrative review. Journal of public health research. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8859712/