Autism Testing 101: What You Need to Know

Going to the doctor is an anxiety-ridden experience in the best of times, but when faced with taking a child with potential Autism to the doctor, that anxiety can skyrocket leaving both the caregiver and child overwhelmed. There are many facets to an Autism test and no single test that will provide a child with the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. To break down the testing milestones and empower parents, here are our top 5 tests to know when going in for an Autism Evaluation in order by typical administration by most providers*. 

 

Quick Facts: 

  • There is no single Autism test that determines an Autism diagnosis.
  • Each test a provider administers in an Autism test serves a different purpose.
  • The parent/caregiver will provide important information about a child’s development during different stages of the evaluation. 
  • You will work with your provider to better understand the results from the Autism test.
  • Autism can be caught at 18-months or younger with early Autism testing.

#1 – The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)

Usually, the need for Autism testing is identified by the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) screening. The screening tool is designed for children between 16 and 30 months old.  The M-CHAT is often done by your pediatrician’s office at your child’s routine 18 month or 24 month well child visit, but if you’ve raised concerns, it might be done at a different time. 

 

What does it do? 

The M-CHAT evaluates your child’s milestones in accordance with typical children his/her age. 

What will you do? 

Answer about 20-questions from your provider and really fill-in-the-blanks for your pediatrician on what milestones your child may or may not be hitting compared with children the same age. 

What do the results tell you? 

If your child is low risk, medium risk, and high risk for Autism. If your child scores as medium risk, you are guided through follow-up questions that will further classify your child for being low or high risk. Even if your child doesn’t meet all the criteria for an Autism Diagnosis, children who screen positive are at high risk for other developmental delays that can be detected by your pediatrician.

#2 – The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS-III)

If more information is needed by your provider to determine a plan of action for testing, the Vineland may be administered.

 

What does it do? 

The Vineland is a rating form that helps clinicians hone in on more specific details of development. It looks at adaptive behavior (practical skills that help you function in everyday life) in the domains of daily living, social skills, and communication. 

What will you do? 

Answer questions about your child’s abilities and challenges relating to daily living, social, and communication skills. 

What will the results tell you? 

What areas your child needs the most help to improve and connect with his/her world, including you. 

#3 – Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R)

 

What does it do? 

Distinguishes developmental delays that might be related to autism from indications of other developmental disorders. While a parent interview about general developmental history can be done for a child of any age or developmental level, if your child is at least two years old, a psychologist will also administer the Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised (ADI-R). 

What will you do? 

Answer questions about your child’s developmental history. The ADI-R is typically a telehealth or by-phone appointment. It is made up of 93 questions, which the provider will walk you through during the interview.

What will it tell you? 

What behavioral issues that are correlated with Autism are happening with your child. One more step toward determining a diagnosis! 

#4 – Cognitive and Developmental Tests

 

What do they do? 

Cognitive and developmental tests help your healthcare provider gauge the assessments that will be needed to highlight your child’s strengths and areas of development. 

What will you do? 

Answer some questions from your provider on your child’s skill set, and interact with your child so the provider can observe your child’s behaviors, skills, etc.  

What will they tell you?

Different cognitive tests are used depending on the chronological age of the child. For example, the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development is used for children as young as one month. It is a developmental test that looks at cognitive skills as well as other domains to evaluate the mental age compared to typically developing peers. 

 

Older children can take either the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale for Intelligence- Fourth Edition (WPPSI-IV) or Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-V (WISC-V) tests. These more sophisticated tests measure a child’s strengths and weaknesses in areas such as verbal IQ, spatial IQ, working memory, and processing speed.

#5 – The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Second Edition  (ADOS-2)

 

What does it do? 

The ADOS-2 evaluates your child’s social and behavioral communication. The ADOS sets up a series of structured activities and unstructured situations that are intended to prompt children to engage and exhibit certain behaviors. An interview will be conducted first, followed by additional cognitive/developmental, adaptive, and behavioral tests as determined by the provider. 

What will you do? 

Watch your child and interact as needed! The ADOS is a social-emotional assessment. It’s a play-based, in-person appointment that is less directed, even though certain tasks are performed. During the ADOS, the psychologist will be looking at the way your child relates to both the toys in their environment as well as to others. 

What will it tell you?

The ADOS-2  evaluation will show how your child relates to his/her environment under each testing category and where he/she will need the most help. It will also report objective information about any of your child’s repetitive behaviors, social communication skills and restricted interests.

Putting It All Together

Your provider will review all of the information gathered from these assessments and determine whether or not your child meets the DSM-V criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Remember that your child’s diagnosis will not change who he/she is to you. A diagnosis simply means specific resources become available to your child to help him/her grow into a strong and healthy child. 

 

Resources

Autism Speaks on DSM-V Criteria

CDC Signs and Symptoms of Autism

CDC Screening & Diagnosis of Autism 

Autism Speaks Resource Guides

 

Decoding All the Acronyms: A Quick Guide Reference

 

Test Age Type of Test
Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) 16 to 30 months Screening test
Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS-III) Birth + Screening test that looks at behaviors related to daily living, social skills, and communication
Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development (Bayley) 1 to 42 months Developmental test to measure mental and motor development and test behavior
Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) 2 years 6 months to 7 years 7 months  Intelligence test that measures a child’s progress in areas such as thinking processes, problem solving, and decision-making skills.  Assesses child in 5 areas: general intellectual functioning (IQ), verbal IQ, performance IQ, processing speed, and language abilities
Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) 6 years to 16 years and 11 months IQ test to determine child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses in five domains of verbal comprehension , visual spatial ability, fluid reasoning, working memory, and processing speed
Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised (ADI-R)  2 years+ Parent interview for general developmental history and to identify specific behavioral issues related to ASD
Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) 12 months+ Social-emotional and communication assessment

 

*These tests may vary between providers.