Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

Healthcare providers at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone screen children for developmental disorders and disabilities during regular well-baby and well-child visits, according to standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. All children should be screened for developmental delays at 9 months, 18 months, and again at 24 or 30 months.

Developmental screening is a short test to determine if a child is learning basic skills at the right time. If not, he or she may have delays.

During a developmental screening, doctors may ask you specific questions about your child’s actions and behavior. You may also be asked to fill out a questionnaire about his or her behavior.

The doctor also interacts with your child through conversation and play. This enables the specialist to see how your child moves, speaks, and interacts. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a disorder.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened specifically for autism spectrum disorder at the 18-month and 24-month doctor visits. Autism spectrum disorder encompasses a group of neurological and developmental disorders that affect a child’s brain development and cause social, communication, and behavioral difficulties.

Screening tests for autism spectrum disorder in very young children concentrate on social and communication impairment. This is based on parents’ answers to questions. For example, a doctor may ask about specific behaviors or actions, such as pointing to ask for something or showing interest in an object.

The results of screening tests help healthcare providers to accurately identify children at risk for having an autism spectrum disorder.

Additional screening tests may be performed if the child is at high risk for the condition, such as having a sibling or another family member with autism spectrum disorder. This may also be necessary if a child exhibits behaviors sometimes associated with the condition, such as communication delays.

Depending on the results of the screenings, a healthcare provider either rules out autism or refers you to a child development expert who specializes in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder. These screenings help the expert to determine if the child’s symptoms are related to autism spectrum disorder or if a condition with similar symptoms, such as selective mutism, may be the cause.