What is autism spectrum disorder screening?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a disorder of the brain that affects a person's behavior, communication, and social skills. The disorder usually shows up in the first two years of life. ASD is called a "spectrum" disorder because there is a wide range of symptoms. Autism symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some children with ASD may never be able to function without support from parents and caregivers. Others need less support and may eventually live independently.
ASD screening is the first step in diagnosing the disorder. While there is no cure for ASD, early treatment can help reduce autism symptoms and improve quality of life.
Other names: ASD screening
What is it used for?
Autism spectrum disorder screening is most often used to check for signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children aged 2 and under.
Why does my child need an autism spectrum disorder screening?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for ASD at their 18-month and 24-month well-child checkups.
Your child may need screening at an earlier age if he or she has symptoms of ASD. Autism symptoms may include:
- Not making eye contact with others
- Not responding to a parent's smile or other gestures
- A delay in learning to talk. Some children may repeat words without understanding their meaning.
- Repeated body movements such as rocking, spinning, or flapping of hands
- Obsession with specific toys or objects
- Trouble with change in routine
Older children and adults may also need screening if they have autism symptoms and were not diagnosed as babies. These symptoms may include:
- Trouble communicating
- Feeling overwhelmed in social situations
- Repeated body movements
- Extreme interest in specific topics
What happens during an autism spectrum disorder screening?
There is no special test for ASD. Screening usually includes:
- A questionnaire for parents that asks for information about their child's development and behavior.
- Observation. Your child's provider will look at how your child plays and interacts with others.
- Tests that ask your child to perform tasks that check their thinking skills and ability to make decisions.
Sometimes a physical problem can cause autism-like symptoms. So screening may also include:
- Blood tests to check for lead poisoning and other disorders
- Hearing tests. A hearing problem can cause problems in language skills and social interaction.
- Genetic tests. These tests look for inherited disorders such as Fragile X syndrome. Fragile X causes intellectual disabilities and symptoms similar to ASD. It most often affects boys.
Will I need to do anything to prepare my child for an autism spectrum disorder screening?
There are no special preparations needed for this screening.
Are there any risks to a screening?
There is no risk to having an autism spectrum disorder screening.
What do the results mean?
If results show signs of ASD, your provider may refer you to specialists for more testing and/or treatment. These specialists may include a:
- Developmental pediatrician. A doctor who specializes in treating children with special needs.
- Neuropsychologist. A doctor who specializes in understanding the relationship between the brain and behavior.
- Child psychologist. A health care provider who specializes in treating mental health and behavioral, social, and development issues in children.
If your child is diagnosed with ASD, it's important to get treatment as soon as possible. Early treatment can help make the most of your child's strengths and abilities. Treatment has been shown to improve behavior, communication, and social skills.
ASD treatment involves services and support from a variety of providers and resources. If your child is diagnosed with ASD, talk to his or her provider about making a treatment strategy.
Is there anything else I need to know about autism spectrum disorder screening?
There is no one single cause of autism spectrum disorder. Research suggests that it is caused by a combination of factors. These may include genetic disorders, infections, or medicines taken during pregnancy, and an older age of one or both parents (35 or older for women, 40 or older for men).
Research also clearly shows that there is no link between childhood vaccines and autism spectrum disorder.
If you have questions about ASD risk factors and causes, talk to your child's health care provider.
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