The Stages of an Autism Diagnosis

The diagnosis of autism has two stages. The first stage is a developmental screening during “well child” check-ups. The second stage involves a thorough evaluation by a multidisciplinary team.


A “well child” check-up at the doctor should include a developmental screening test. (This test is done to see if the child is developing at a rate that is appropriate for his or her age.) In addition, the parents’ own observations and concerns about their child’s development is important in helping to screen a child for autism.

Looking at family videotapes, photos, and baby albums can help parents to remember when each behavior first appeared and when the child reached certain developmental milestones.

If a child’s doctor sees any of the possible indicators of autism as a result of a screening or a “well child checkup,” further evaluation is necessary.

Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation

The second type of evaluation must be more detailed in order to make sure the child does, or does not, have autism. This evaluation may be done by a team that includes a psychologist, a neurologist, a psychiatrist, a speech therapist, or other professionals who diagnose children with autism.

Because autism is a complicated disorder, a complete evaluation may involve a number of different types of tests. Professionals will test the child’s learning skills, social skills, communication skills, listening responses, body movements, hearing, relationships to people, and more.

Lead screening is also essential for children who remain for a long period of time in the oral-motor stage during which they put things into their mouths. Children with an autistic disorder usually have elevated blood lead levels.

Although parents may have been aware that something was not “quite right” with their child, when a diagnosis of autism is given, it is very upsetting. However, as soon as possible after parents learn that their child is autistic, it is important for them to ask questions and get recommendations on what further steps they should take.

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Visit the My Child Without Limits support community and talk to parents, caregivers, and professionals about their experiences with autism.



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Autism Society