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When should I consider having my kiddo screened for autism? 

By Samantha Sallade, Ph.D.

Dr. Sallade is a certified school psychologist who is experienced in evaluating children for autism and other neurodevelopmental challenges. She is the Director of Clinical Outreach of As You Are, a virtual clinic dramatically increasing access to early autism diagnostic services through the use of exclusively telehealth appointments

Increased awareness, education, improvements in diagnostic tools and research have made Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) more of a household term over the past few decades. And, research shows that earlier autism diagnosis and treatment is essential for better outcomes. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that primary care providers regularly screen for ASD symptoms during regular well-child checkups over the course of the first three years: 

  • 18 months
  • 2-and-a-half years (30 months)

Screening is essential to identifying developmental concerns as early as possible. So, if you’re questioning some of the behaviors your child is exhibiting, a screening could be a good first-step. Some behaviors to consider, include: 

  • Does your child struggle with communication or social interactions with other children? 
  • Is your child having temper tantrums often or unexplained outbursts?
  • Are transitions or changes in schedule extremely difficult for your child?

So what is a screening tool? 

There’s no shortage of online health tools. You may have heard of an, “online risk assessment,” “quiz” or “questionnaire.” The autism screening tool is a questionnaire M-CHAT-R or ASDQ) that provides the current probability of autism based on the child’s age. Not to be confused with an autism  evaluation for a formal diagnosis, these screening tools are a great first-step for assessing a concern of autism in a child and could help guide decisions about early intervention or other therapeutic support even before receiving a diagnosis. Some treatment options and support will require a diagnosis, which is why the screening tool cannot take the place of an evaluation with a physician.     

Autism screening can enable early intervention

Early intervention is remarkably effective. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Research shows that early diagnosis of and interventions for autism are more likely to have major long-term positive effects on symptoms and later skills.” Researchers point to the increased neuroplasticity of the developing brain as one key reason for this. Young children’s brains are forming new neural pathways and forging connections faster than they will at any other stage of life. Early intervention for ASD takes advantage of this fact and can result in significant progress and skill development.

Learn more about why early intervention for autism is so important.

Autism screening can alert parents to signs to look for

The very act of completing a screening tool for ASD can help parents calibrate their expectations of typical development versus delayed development. 

Screening tools are not a substitute for a professional evaluation, and they do not provide a “yes” or “no” answer. In general, screening results are framed in terms of low, medium or high risk for autism. A finding of low risk traditionally indicates more typical development, while a result of medium or high risk would encourage a conversation with your child’s primary care provider or an autism evaluation. Note: A finding of “medium or high risk” does not mean that your child has autism. It simply means that further evaluation is recommended. Parents who receive a finding of high risk should schedule an autism evaluation or contact their child’s healthcare provider to talk about next steps. 

A screening tool can give parents a roadmap for talking with their child’s doctor

Another big benefit of completing an autism screening tool is that it quantifies and identifies your specific areas of concern about your child’s development in terms your child’s primary care provider can understand. Having the  screening results in hand, could help to paint a clearer picture of the behaviors your child is exhibiting.

Take the first step today – Head over to the Autism Screening Tool to complete a short questionnaire.

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