If you suspect that your child or someone you know is on the autism spectrum, you may be wondering if there is a test for autism. There are no definitive medical tests that can diagnosis an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In order to diagnosis ASD a comprehensive screening and evaluation is performed by a team of trained clinicians. These are some of the most common assessments, or “tests” administered during an autism evaluation.
Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)
The M-CHAT is an autism screening tool used to identify toddlers, between 16 and 30 months of age, who are “at risk” or showing early signs of ASD or developmental delay. Parents answer twenty-eight screening questions that their doctor will review to assess if the child is showing possible early signs of autism or developmental delay. A determination of “at risk” on the M-CHAT will indicate if further evaluation is necessary. This diagnostic tool is also available online at m-chat.org.
Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers (STAT)
When your child is assessed as “at risk” on the M-CHAT, a STAT will likely be recommended. Unlike the M-CHAT, which can be filled out by parents, the STAT must be administered by a doctor or psychologist who is experienced with assessing autism in young children. This interactive evaluation, consisting of 12 activities, is designed to assess play, communication, and imitation skills. The STAT takes approximately 20-30 minutes to complete.
Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)
The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) is a considered the “gold standard” in autism diagnosis. The ADOS was developed to diagnose autism spectrum disorders across a wide range of chronological and mental ages. This assessment involves a 30-60 minute long semi-structured interaction with a trained examiner to assess social interaction, communication and play skills. The assessment places a child into one of three ranges: Autism, Autism Spectrum, and Not Autism. It also provides a comparison score that rates the child’s level of autism related symptoms as either: High, Moderate, Low, or Minimal to No Evidence.
Child Behavioral Checklist (CBCL)
The Child Behavioral Checklist usually completed by the parent contains 113 items related to common child behavior problems. It designed to assess eight areas of child behavior: emotional reactivity, anxious or depressed behavior, somatic complaints, withdrawal, sleep problems, attention problems, and aggressive behavior.
Childhood Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition (CARS-2)
The CARS-2 is a clinician-rated diagnostic assessment tool for the identification of autism spectrum disorders. The clinician rates children on a scale from one to four on various domains ranging from normal to severe, which yields a composite score of Minimal to No Symptoms, Mild to Moderate Symptoms, or Severe Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales
The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales is a parent interview that assesses the child’s development in a number of domains. In the Communication domain, a child’s receptive, expressive, and written communication abilities are assessed. The Daily Living Skills domain measures the child’s ability to engage in self-care activities such as toileting, feeding, and dressing activities. The Socialization domain asks questions about the child’s play skills, and coping skills. The assessment provides an estimate of the child’s overall level of development.
Diagnosing an autism spectrum disorder is a multi-faceted complex procedure requiring a team of experts. There are many steps involved in obtaining an ASD diagnosis including doctor’s observations, parental reporting, and standardized assessments (as discussed here). A knowledgeable pediatrician or school psychologist may be able to diagnosis the disorder, but in most cases a psychologist specializing in autism or a developmental pediatrician will be required to obtain a definitive autism diagnosis.