How to Diagnose Autism in Children – The 2-Stage Process

We have mentioned the 2-stage process in our earlier post “Autism in Children”, here we will give a detailed explanation on how to diagnose autism in children.

Though it is best advised to take a professional support for diagnosing autism in kids, yet we will provide you the links to some very good books using which you can do this at home.

A therapist or a psychologist can always give an accurate report of the 2-stage process but since this process does not involve anything more than a meticulous examination of the child’s behavior, you can do your homework by acquiring proper knowledge about this disorder.

Autism is usually detected after the age of two or more, but as our previous post on “signs of autism in children” suggests, in some special cases, it can also be identified in babies.

The 2-stage process is something incomplete without a professional support but what we are trying to help you with is the first stage of this whole methodology because, in the first stage, there are only two main requirements i.e observation and knowledge.

In the first stage, if you are able to detect the symptoms of this disorder in a kid then you will have to move on to the second stage where you will mandatorily require medical professionals.

The First Stage – Developmental Screening

This particular stage is all about examining the behavior of a kid using some specific references which are based on the usual age wise characteristics of the children, you can find a basic idea about what to observe using our old post related to the signs of autism that we already mentioned above.

Whether you do it using some professional support or with the help of the informational sources, what basically matters in this method is how much you know about your kid on an internal level.

If you will contact a therapist (or read a book), what they will do is ask you some specific important questions and give you some selected tasks to perform with the kid (a therapist may also choose to do this voluntarily).

The tasks involve engaging with the kid in various different ways with the motive of identifying a delay in the developmental characteristics of any kid like speech, locomotor skills, indirect communication, social behavior, sensory developments etc. If any delay is detected using these tests then this indicates that the child may be affected by ASD.

As a conscious and aware parent or an authority figure, it becomes your responsibility to at least acquire some knowledge about all the developmental disorders and observe your kids behavior properly.

The stage one we are talking about here is a must for every kid because even a slight delay in the usual skills based on the age of the kid can be a mild or severe implication of a developmental disorder.

Since there are numerous psychological issues that might occur during the growing period of a child’s life, a broad-minded person always acts wisely using proper knowledge and observations. In today’s world, even after all the technological advancements, many psychological disorders go unidentified until the adulthood of a person.

Being said that, according to the experts, the crucial milestones of brain development is 9 months,18 months and 24 months, so it is advised to perform this screening at all these points, (taking the kid to medical professionals during these developmental ages is highly suggested).

Four Ways to Perform the First Stage Screening in Children

1 – CHAT (The Checklist for Autism in Toddlers)

This one is performed on 18-month-old babies to check their speaking skills and basic communication using a set of references. With the help of this test, any small or big delay in basic speaking capabilities can be identified.

2 – M-CHAT-R (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised)

It is a modified version of what we have discussed above. Along with the set of questions and tasks used in the CHAT some more advanced methodologies are used here using which the delay can be more accurately identified.
Read our post on M-CHAT-R to know more about this method.

3-SCQ (Social Communication Questionnaire)

Once a child crosses the two year age mark, the delay in social skills and language use becomes very apparent. Any such developmental delay during this age can very certainly imply the possibility of a developmental disorder.

Social communication Questionnaire is something using which the parent or therapist identifies the exact areas of social interaction where a kid is lagging behind according to their age.

In this process, 2 types of evaluations are incorporated. First one is the entire development history of the child and the other is a detailed analysis of the previous three months.

Since this stage is entirely based on the supervision of the child, SCQ consists of about 40 “yes” or “no” questions for the guardian of the kid. With the help of these questions, a clear idea can be obtained regarding whether the kid is affected by autism or any other disorder.

4- CSBS – DP (Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales – Developmental Profile)

It’s a simple one-page sheet of checklist using which it can be identified whether any communication or symbolic skills related problems are either existent or may appear in the future in case of any particular kid.

The basic mode of expressions in any communication involves the certain use of body movements, gestures, facial expressions, and speech. Hence, CSBS-DP uses seven main factors that are involved in any type of communication.

Since disorders like autism make an individual incapable to express themselves in a way like others do, this method is crucial in identifying the possibility of this disorder.

The Second Stage Diagnostic Evaluation

Once the above step is performed at home or with the help of a therapist, and the screening after multiple attempts confirms the possibility of any disorder then we move on to the next stage where many well-established tests are performed by child specialists. Here, proper brain diagnosis is also performed using various advanced medical instruments.girl child hugging her father

First of all, in this stage, the parent or the guardian is interviewed by an experienced person of the child health department.

After that, the medical professionalist voluntarily observes the child’s behavior and activities in order to better identify the exact problem.

In this child observation, a myriad of things is considered like the sensory developments, genetic inherent characteristics, locomotor skills, speaking capabilities and age-appropriate skills(like toileting and other adaptive skills).

Unlike the first stage, in this stage, a lot of professional support is required. A proper diagnostic evaluation is performed by a team of experienced pediatrics and other medical experts. The team mainly includes the following child specialists:-

1 – Developmental pediatricians – These professionals are people who have the proper understanding and medical knowledge about kids with special needs.

2 – Child Neurologists – Since the developmental disorders are brain-related problems, we require child neurologist to examine the brain functioning of a kid using various sophisticated neurologic diagnosis instruments.

3 – Child Psychologists and Psychiatrist- For developmental disorders in kids, the help of pediatric psychological department is a must after the neurologist has examined them because these people are proficient in identifying and solving any issues regarding a child’s mental health.

So, psychologists first meet and examine the kid to prepare a complete report on their actual developmental issues which is further sent to psychiatrists who performs any further treatment accordingly.

The above three experts are a must for the second stage but there can be more members in this team so that the problem could be better dealt with.

Especially after 18 months of age when a child begins to learn language skills, a speech therapist may be required. characteristics autism children

This post was just a small basic informative content using which we are trying to give you a proper idea about the 2-stage process. If you are thinking about either trying to detect ASD or any other disorder using the first step or you are just acquiring necessary knowledge about diagnosing child disorders then we highly recommend you to check out our post on “CHAT” where we have discussed this particular screening in detail.

For diagnosing autism, we highly recommend you to read “Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorders” by Dr. Donald P. Gallo (this is a good read on autism spectrum disorders in both kids and adults). You may also want to check out our review of the program named “Parenting Children with Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism“.

Here’s a video that talks about how autism is diagnosed in children:-


We hope you enjoyed this post and found something useful here. Please keep in mind that we are just a group of people who are trying to help the parents and authority figures of kids using our research works, so please seek proper medical support wherever you feel it is necessary.

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4 responses to “How to Diagnose Autism in Children – The 2-Stage Process”

  1. Wow, im so glad I came across this post. Although my child doesn’t suffer from autism, this post surely has some extremely helpful information for parents to learn and observe for their kids. Shall definitely recommend parents to read about this as you never know who it may help! Thanks for sharing this valuable info and wish you all the best!

    • Thank you, please do share it with others as who knows someone may be in need of such information right now, our site will cover a lot of topics related to the parenting of kids, so we hope you will also find something useful here in the future.

  2. I have a friend who’s son I suspect suffers from ASD but they have not verified. After reading this post I am sure that is what he is experiencing. This article lays out the diagnosis process very well. It is well written and digestible. What kind of therapy do you reccomend?Thank you for this information.

    • Thank you for the response. However, there is no particular therapy that works for all, so first the child needs to be examined for the specific areas in which they are facing problem and accordingly the child expert will guide you for the therapy needed.

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