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autism toddler Adobe Stock

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

According to the advocacy group Autism Speaks, one in every 36 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Early diagnosis is crucial to helping to treat the condition, but how is a diagnosis done?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an updated review of what's involved in diagnosing autism in kids.

"Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder [ASD] can be difficult because there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorder," the agency noted. "Doctors look at the child’s developmental history and behavior to make a diagnosis."

1. At what age can a diagnosis be made?

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adhd diagnosis

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According to the CDC, the time at which a child receives a diagnosis varies. Sometimes an ASD can be detected as young as 18 months, or even before, but only by the age of 2 can a diagnosis by a trained professional be considered reliable.

Unfortunately, in many cases a diagnosis of autism may not come till later in childhood. Some people are unaware that they have an ASD until they are diagnosed as an adult.

Ideally, a reliable diagnosis should take place in childhood, when therapies are most effective, the CDC said.

2. Monitoring development

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child care daycare playAdobe Stock

As children grow, conversations between parents and health care providers that center on kids' skills and abilities should be encouraged, the CDC said.

Tracking your child's development -- how soon they reach typical developmental milestones, for example -- is key. These age-linked milestones include skills observed in playing, learning, speaking, behaving and moving.

Everyone can be part of the "developmental monitoring" process -- parents, grandparents, daycare workers and teachers, can all give feedback on how a child is progressing.

3. Screening for developmental issues and autism

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baby playing on the floor with the toys

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The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that developmental and behavioral screening occur for all children during regular well-child visits at these ages:

  • 9 months

  • 18 months

  • 30 months

When it comes to ASD screening specifically, those should occur at 18 months and 2 years of age, according to AAP recommendations.

Screening can also happen at other times, should a caregiver or a doctor be concerned that a child might have autism, or if a child is at high risk for an ASD (for example, the child has a sibling or other family member with ASD).

4. What next?

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child doctor

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A formal evaluation of your child might indicate that early therapeutic interventions for an ASD might be necessary. As well,  the specialist might recommend genetic counseling and testing for your child, the CDC said.

5. Source and more information

parent Black child mother
parent Black child mother

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