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Autism Evaluations — What to Expect
by Susie S. Loraine, M.A., CCC-SLP
Evaluations for a possible diagnosis of autism take place in a variety of settings including hospitals, specialized clinics, and doctors' offices. Depending on the setting and available resources, the evaluation may be single-discipline, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary (Sikora, 2008, p.19).
Single-Discipline Evaluation — One professional such as a physician or psychiatrist offers a diagnosis based on observation over a short period of time.
Multidisciplinary Evaluation — Different professionals (at least two) each separately evaluate the child and give a diagnostic opinion. The professionals may include a physician, psychiatrist, speech-language pathologist, social worker, psychologist, or other professional. They may or may not agree on the diagnosis.
Interdisciplinary Evaluation — Different professionals (at least two) evaluate the child separately and then come together and agree on a diagnosis before reporting back to the family. The professionals may include a physician, psychiatrist, speech-language pathologist, social worker, psychologist, or other professional.
Transdisciplinary Evaluation — Different professionals (at least two) work together during the evaluation and come to an agreement on the diagnosis before reporting to the family. The professionals may include a physician, psychiatrist, speech-language pathologist, social worker, psychologist, or other professional.
Evaluations typically include four parts (Sikora, 2008, p.20):
  1. Case history — Professional(s) will interview the parent about the child's mental and emotionalhistories.
  2. Parent Questionnaire — Parents fill out a written questionnaire that asks about specific areas of concern.
  3. Direct Observation — Professional(s) will observe the child participating in structured activities.
  4. Collateral Sources — Professional(s) will gather more information from other people who interact with the child, such as teachers or extended family members.
Why Is it Important to Diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Getting a diagnosis of autism is important for the following reasons (Sikora, 2008, pp. 22-23):
If you suspect your child has an autism spectrum disorder, talk to your child's doctor or contact the local children's hospital to help you find a diagnostic clinic or team of professionals.
  • Professionals and parents can more easily examine behaviors and find evidence-based treatments when the child "fits" the criteria for the label of "autism."
  • Diagnoses give families access to special education, financial support, advocacy groups, and many other programs.
  • Diagnoses give families an explanation for their children's behaviors. This can lead to better understanding and guilt relief for parents.
Resources
Sikora, D. (2008). Differential diagnosis — If it’s not autism, then what is it? In G. R. Buckendorf (Ed.), Autism: A guide for educators, clinicians, and parents (pp. 19-23). Greenville, SC: Thinking Publications.
 
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