What to expect at your diagnostic evaluation

Most parents have several questions running through their head about what to expect during a diagnostic evaluation for their child. Although it may seem overwhelming, this assessment is here to help provide clarification and guidance.

Here is what you can expect during a diagnostic evaluation for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

First steps: Initial interview and complete history

At the beginning of an evaluation, you will be asked to recall a timeline of events about your child’s history, by the psychologist or certified professional (pediatrician, neurologist, etc.) performing the observations. Baby books, pictures, and other notes are useful when recalling a timeline of events. When giving a detailed history, be sure to include developmental milestones, changes in behavior, medical history, family history and any other concerns that you have. It is important to be as thorough as possible, in order to receive the best possible evaluation outcome. 

What is involved in a formal evaluation?

During the evaluation, you will be working with a clinical specialist conducting formal evaluations. The most widely known tool used during the formal assessment is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). This test helps a trained evaluator to objectively assess a child’s behavior and determine whether or not they are displaying patterns of behavior that fit the diagnosis criteria of ASD. Typically, the length of this test is between 30 and 60 minutes.

During the test, your child will be asked to take part in play and social activities. Parents are usually present during the test. For an optimal diagnosis, the evaluation can also include a formal evaluation of the child’s cognitive function (IQ) and adaptive functioning (self-care skills) to rule out any intellectual disability. The length of time it takes for a child to be assessed can range from 3-5 hours, depending on their level of skills and age. 

Further testing 

The initial test (ADOS) may bring to light specific areas of evaluation, requiring a range of different specialists for further testing. For example, speech and language therapy (SLP), occupational therapy (OT) or physical therapy (PT) assessments may be required following the initial ADOS assessment. Based on the results of each assessment, your provider may suggest possible interventions in the areas of concern. These interventions may include behavior intervention (applied behavior analysis), speech, counseling, occupational or physical therapy and other related supports.

Further testing can include:

  • Medical assessments
  • Psychological assessments
  • Speech and language assessments
  • Occupational or physical therapy assessments

There are several steps in the evaluation process when it comes to diagnosing a child with ASD. While this process may seem overwhelming, there are several people within the evaluation process that are available to support you in every way possible.