You’ve had some concerns about your child’s development, and the pediatrician agrees that a comprehensive developmental evaluation is in order. You may have blocked off several hours for a developmental pediatrics visit, and you’re wondering what to expect. That’s only natural. When you know what the day will look like, you’ll be in a better position to help put your child’s mind at ease. You should ask your child’s healthcare provider exactly what’s in store, but most autism assessment appointments have certain things in common.
PRE-APPOINTMENT SCREENINGS AND INTERVIEWS
Not all autism assessments are done in a single sitting. Often, the process begins with developmental screening tools and interviews with parents, caregivers, and teachers. The screening tools can be completed by a pediatrician or parent and are designed to present a picture of the child’s overall development. For example, depending on the child’s age, the screener may request that a short sentence be repeated or that the child string beads or cereal onto a shoelace.
Interviewing the adults in the child’s life is an important step toward getting a sense of the child’s strengths and challenges. These questionnaires may give insight into where the child is struggling and which behaviors contribute to difficulties at school or within the family. When you complete the pre-appointment items ahead of time, it gives the clinician a chance to get to know something about your child before conducting the in-person assessment.
CLINICIAN CONVERSATIONS WITH THE CHILD
Although an autism assessment tool, such as ADOSTM-2, is a standardized evaluation tool, you won’t see your child filling out bubbles on a multiple-choice form. Instead, the clinician will be observing your child’s responses to various stimuli. It may look to you like a friendly conversation and play session.
To prevent the child from getting distracted or looking to you for coaching, you may be able to observe the interaction from an observation room with a one-way mirror so your child can’t see you. This part of the assessment usually takes about an hour, and your child should have a chance to take a break during the session.
COGNITIVE ASSESSMENT GAMES
If your child’s care team orders a cognitive assessment, such as an IQ test, it could be scheduled for the same day as the autism assessment or on a different day. This type of test can take one to three hours, with the child taking breaks as needed.
Many children enjoy this type of evaluation because of all the games and puzzles that it includes. Again, it may look like playtime, but the clinician is making precise observations about the inner workings of your child’s brain.
FOLLOW-UP, RESULTS, AND THE NEXT STEPS
A week or two after the assessment is complete, you should receive test results. They will explain the interactions as well as what the clinician learned from each interaction. You may have another appointment to review the results with the clinician and learn what further testing or therapy options may be on the horizon.