What do you do when you’re concerned that your child has autism? Most people would say the answer is simple. Take the child to his/her pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism at 18 and 24 months. This can be done during a toddler’s regular checkup.
However, this screening has not always been routine. Too many physicians have said, ”Let’s wait and see.” But waiting is never a good option when wondering about developmental delays. Parents can, and should, push for screening. And a recent study backs this up.
The Journal of the Academy of Pediatrics recently published results of a study that validates the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT) and the MCHAT, Revised with Follow-up (M-CHAT-R/F) as a screening tool for low-risk toddlers. The study screened more than 18,000 toddlers in metropolitan Atlanta and Connecticut during regular check-ups. If the children scored 3 initially, their parents went on to complete follow up questions. Children who scored a 2 after follow-up had a 47.5% risk of being diagnosed with autism. As a result of the screening children were given a complete evaluation with diagnosis by age three. This is two years younger than the Minnesota average age of diagnosis, which is five. Any parent can read through this screening tool and score their child, and they should. The M-CHAT-R with Follow-Up can be downloaded from the web site of the tool’s author, Diane Robins of Atlanta’s Georgia State University, here.
Upon completion the checklist can be taken to your child’s pediatrician, who might do a complete evaluation. Another good option would be an evaluation at a clinic where teams specialize in autism diagnosis. Here are some local options:
- Children’s Hospitals and Clinics
- Park Nicollet Alexander Center
- Riverview Health
- University of MN Children’s Hospital
While here is no single test for autism, a good evaluation should include the following: evaluation of the child’s development, evaluation of the behavioral characteristics of autism, speech and communication evaluation, family history, evaluation of sensory processing, cognitive evaluation, and an interview with parents regarding problems with daily living – sleeping, eating, and toileting.
If a diagnosis of autism is determined, intervention should begin immediately. Research reports that intervention is most effective when it begins between two and four years. Parents are in the perfect position to push this forward.