When to Get an Evaluation
If you or your pediatrician have concerns that your child may have autism, the next steps can feel very unknown. For a medical diagnosis of autism, certain criteria must be met as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5). The tricky part is autism looks different for each child and the symptoms of autism can also be present in other disorders, so it is important the child receive what we call a “comprehensive evaluation” to determine what’s really going on. This means we want the evaluator taking their time and using a variety of screeners, assessments, evaluations, and questionnaires during their evaluation. Here are some of the most-used tools specific to autism. You want at least one of these completed.
*Considered the gold standard for autism diagnosing.
Who Can Conduct the Evaluation?
There are only a few types of professionals who can evaluate your child. Your pediatrician may refer you to a specific person, but you can also take the opportunity to shop around and find who best fits your family. Research evaluators and then call each option to ask questions! Find out their experience evaluating autism, what tools they use to diagnose, and what their evaluation process looks like from start to finish. Also ask how long their waitlist is and what insurance they work with. An independent psychologist may be able to see you quickly but only accepts private pay while a Developmental Pediatrician group may have long wait times to get an appointment but accepts your insurance.
Generally, the following professionals can provide a comprehensive evaluation for autism. *
*This is not a definitive list and the evaluators you have access to may vary depending on state regulations, professional license requirements, specialized training requirements, insurance restrictions, or provider availability in your area.
There may be multi-disciplinary members of the evaluation team depending on your child’s needs:
It’s important to note here that school districts often employ psychologists who will evaluate and diagnose school-aged children with autism. While these evaluations are critical for your child to receive the necessary school services, most insurance carriers will not accept school-based evaluations as a medical diagnosis. you may still have to seek a comprehensive evaluation from one of the previously listed providers to receive insurance funded services related to autism.
Every evaluator is going to have their own approach to the actual process, but many families have experienced something similar to this. Your child’s evaluation will likely occur over the course of two separate appointments. The first will be the actual evaluation when the evaluator(s) administer the various assessments and conduct interviews with you. After the first appointment they will review their findings and develop the report, which will be reviewed with you at the second appointment. Sometimes you know the results before that second appointment, other times you may not. It depends on how each individual evaluator does things.
Anatomy of the Evaluation Report
The work you put into finding the right provider to evaluate your child will show through in the physical evaluation report you receive. This document should be lengthy with reports ranging from 10-20 pages being common. The length does not indicate severity of the diagnosis, it indicates the quality and thoroughness of the evaluation. You want a long report.
This report may be referred to by many different names including Psychological Evaluation or Assessment, Diagnostic Evaluation, Diagnostic Report, or any combination of these terms. It will be broken into different sections and should include the following at a minimum.
How it is used
The report is part of your child’s medical record now and will be used to justify future medical treatments and school services. It is required when submitting authorization requests for ABA, more on that though in a later blog post!
What to do with it
This may seem like a silly question, but this is a document you are going to need to supply to people over and over, so keeping it somewhere safe and accessible is so important. Here are some things you can do after getting your hands on the physical report.
Designate a safe storage place for the original report and be sure all guardians know where it is kept. Many parents at this point make a binder where they store all of the important info about their child in one portable solution. I also recommend filing a copy in either your household filing system, a safety deposit box, or wherever you keep your important documents. Don’t just shove it in a drawer!
Make copies! Count up who may need a copy and then make a few more to have on hand. People who may need it include the general pediatrician, school district, ABA provider, therapists, and other guardians or caregivers. Then distribute those copies!
Make a scanned copy. This is ideal and prevents the need to make paper copies and many providers are happy to receive a digital copy. Just be sure to keep your original paper copy safely stored in case something happens to the digital file.
We know the diagnostic process can be overwhelming but hope this information has left you feeling empowered to navigate your next steps. So do your research, ask questions, and your child will receive a quality evaluation and report that opens the door to the services they deserve!