What does a diagnostic evaluation look like for a toddler?

A diagnostic evaluation is a combination of a series of assessments, observations, parent reports, and interviews used to test and diagnose behavioral and developmental disorders. Clinicians typically look at a range of developmental domains and skills when diagnosing these disorders. Some signs that clinicians assess include:

  • Body structure and function impairments: strengths and weaknesses associated with certain developmental disorders
  • Developmental deficits and conditions: including hearing loss and some genetic syndromes
  • Activity and participation limitations: including the ability to communicate in everyday situations
  • Quality of life: including personal and environmental factors that affect the daily life of the individual

Most diagnostic evaluations will include the three following components: 

  • Review of medical records and history
  • Parent report and interview 
  • Child observation and assessment 

The structure of many of these components will be the same regardless of the age of the child, the portions of the evaluation that are adjusted for age are the child observation and assessment portions, this includes:

Cognitive assessment: This assessment is used to determine a child’s language and problem-solving skills. For toddlers, these language and other skill assessments will  be constructed from developmentally appropriate activities; a diagnostic evaluation for a toddler may include an evaluation of motor abilities. 

Adaptive behavior assessment: This portion of the evaluation assesses a child’s daily life skills and abilities measured against those of their peers. These assessments are often conducted with the help of questionnaires and interviews given by parents and teachers to establish a child’s mastery of everyday routines and tasks. These can include self-care and social skills, which for toddlers include various tasks, such as self-feeding or play skills.

Autism-specific assessment: There are standardized tests and assessments that are frequently used tools in the diagnostic evaluation process for ASD. One common assessment tool is the ADOS, or Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. The ADOS tests social and communication skills, as well as repetitive behavior tendencies through a series of checklists and structured activities that allow a clinician to observe a child’s behavior in an evaluation setting. The ADOS has different modules designed to adapt to different levels of ability. For example, a module for toddlers will be adjusted for the child’s limited language communication skills due to age, and assessments will instead focus more on how a child moves around the room and interacts with toys and other objects. For toddlers, many of these tests will be play-oriented, and designed to determine how they react to different scenarios and problem-solve. Based on these observable behaviors, as well as the other assessments listed above, clinicians will be able to offer a diagnosis and their best recommendations for next steps. 

Do you have questions about your toddler’s development or diagnostic evaluations? Contact the team at the Goldman Center of Chicago to speak with a specialist who can answer all of your questions! (773) 998-8500



 “Elements of an Evaluation for Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Center for Autism   Research, Center for Autism Research, 2020, https://www.carautismroadmap.org/elements-of-an-evaluation-for-an-autism-spectrum-disorder/.  

“A Parent’s Guide to Psychological Evaluations for ASD.” Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, Vanderbilt Consortium Lend, 2010, https://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/assets/files/resources/psycheval.pdf

“How is ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) Used to Identify ASD?.” AppliedBehaviorAnalysisEdu.org, AppliedBehaviorAnalysisEdu.org, 2020, https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisedu.org/how-is-ados-autism-diagnostic-observation-schedule-used-to-identify-asd/