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Screening for Autism

Written by FoundHealth.

When your child goes to the doctor for regular check-ups, the doctor will assess your child to see if he has any developmental delays. These "well-child" check-ups are typically scheduled for:

  • 9 months
  • 18 months
  • 24 or 30 months

To assess for developmental delays, the doctor will focus on your child’s social skills, language skills, and behavior. The doctor may spend time talking and playing with your child, and you will be asked questions about your child’s development.

This is a good time for you to talk openly to the doctor about any concerns that you have about how your child is growing and behaving. If your child does not seem to be developing normally or has regressed, these are of special concern and should be shared with the doctor.

Examples of tests that are used to screen for developmental delays include:

  • Ages and Stages Questionnaire
  • Parents Evaluation of Developmental Status

In addition to screening for developmental delays, the doctor may also give a screening test to check specifically for autism . These screening tools focus on the criteria for diagnosing autism that is in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

One test that is used is called the Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (CHAT), which is for children as young as 18 months—when autism is typically diagnosed. Some samples of the types of questions in CHAT include:

  • Does your child take interest in other children?
  • Does your child ever bring objects over to you to show you something?
  • Does your child sometimes stare at nothing or wander with no purpose?

If the screening shows that your child has signs of autism, the next step would be to work with a professional who specializes in the condition. This may be a child psychologist, who will do further testing.

It is important to keep in mind that if your child is in the high-risk category, the doctor will screen him sooner for developmental delays and autism. Your child is considered high-risk if he:

  • Had a low birth weight
  • Was premature
  • Has a sibling with a developmental delay or autism



Autism spectrum disorders (pervasive developmental disorders). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website. Available at: . Updated April 2008. Accessed June 23, 2008.

Behrman RE, et al. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Austism spectrum disorders (ASDs): screening and diagnosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: . Accessed September 15, 2010.

DB Modified checklist for autism in toddlers (M-CHAT) form. DB website. Available at: . Accessed September 15, 2010.

DynaMed Editorial Team. Autism spectrum disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated September 13, 2010. Accessed September 15, 2010.

First Signs. Recommended screening tools. First Signs website. Available at: . Accessed September 15, 2010.

Goetz CG. Goetz’s Textbook of Clinical Neurology.3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2007.

Mayo Clinic. Autism: tests and diagnosis. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: . Updated May 27, 2010. Accessed September 15, 2010.

National Center on Birth Defects and Environmental Disabilities. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: . Accessed June 23, 2008.

Stern TA, et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2008.

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