When Should You Screen for Autism?

As a parent or caregiver, it's important to know when to screen for autism so that you can get your child the help they need as early as possible. In this article, we'll look at some of the signs of autism, when to screen for it, and what to expect from the screening process.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
December 17, 2023
min read

Understanding Autism Screening

Autism screening plays a critical role in the early detection and intervention of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It helps identify potential signs and symptoms of ASD, allowing for timely support and treatment. In this section, we will explore the importance of early detection, when to consider autism screening, and the different types of screening tests available.

Importance of Early Detection

Early detection of autism is crucial for several reasons. By identifying signs of autism in infants and toddlers, parents and healthcare professionals can initiate early interventions and therapies that can make a significant difference in a child's development. Early detection also helps parents understand their child's unique needs and connect with appropriate resources and support systems.

When to Consider Autism Screening?

Parents and caregivers should consider autism screening if they notice any red flags or concerns related to their child's development. It's important to remember that every child develops at their own pace, but there are certain autism red flags to be aware of. These may include:

  • Lack of eye contact or limited social interaction
  • Delayed or absent speech and language skills
  • Repetitive behaviors or restricted interests
  • Difficulty with transitions or changes in routine
  • Sensory sensitivities or aversions

If you observe these signs, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional who can guide you further. They may recommend developmental screening or autism-specific screening tests to gather more information about your child's development.

Different Types of Screening Tests

There are various types of screening tests available to assess the likelihood of autism spectrum disorder. These tests can help identify children who may require further evaluation or diagnostic assessment. Some commonly used screening tools include:

Screening Test Age Range Description
Autism Screening Questionnaire 16 - 30 months A parent-report questionnaire that assesses social-communication skills and repetitive behaviors.
Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) 16 - 30 months A screening tool that uses a parent-report questionnaire to identify potential signs of autism.
Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) 4 years and older A questionnaire completed by parents to evaluate social communication skills and detect possible ASD.
Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) All ages A diagnostic tool that assesses the severity of autism symptoms and aids in diagnosis.

These screening tests are designed to gather information about a child's development and behavior. They are not diagnostic tools but can help identify children who may require further evaluation or referral to a specialist. It's important to note that a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified professional is necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

Understanding the importance of early detection, recognizing autism red flags, and being aware of the different screening tests available are essential steps in supporting children with autism. By identifying potential signs early on and seeking appropriate interventions, parents can provide their child with the necessary support for optimal development.

Free A Physician Examining Her Patient Stock Photo

Developmental Screening Tools

When it comes to autism screening, developmental screening tools play a crucial role in identifying potential developmental delays or concerns. These tools help assess a child's development across various areas, providing valuable insights that can guide further evaluation and intervention. In this section, we will provide an overview of developmental screening and highlight some commonly used screening tools.

Overview of Developmental Screening

Developmental screening is a process used to identify children who may be at risk for developmental delays or disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It involves the use of standardized tools or questionnaires to gather information about a child's skills and abilities in different domains, such as communication, social interaction, motor skills, and cognitive abilities.

The primary goal of developmental screening is to detect potential areas of concern early on, allowing for timely intervention and support. It is important to note that developmental screening is not a diagnostic tool but serves as an initial step in identifying children who may need further evaluation.

Commonly Used Developmental Screening Tools

Several widely recognized developmental screening tools are used by healthcare professionals to assess a child's development. These tools are designed to be administered by professionals who are trained in their administration and interpretation. Here are some commonly used developmental screening tools:

Screening Tool Age Range Assessed Description
Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ) 1 month - 5 years A parent-completed questionnaire that assesses developmental milestones in areas such as communication, fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving, and personal-social skills.
Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) 16 - 30 months A questionnaire that screens for early signs of ASD in toddlers. It consists of 20 yes/no questions related to social communication and behavior.
Parents' Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS) Birth - 8 years A questionnaire completed by parents or caregivers that assesses a child's developmental and behavioral concerns across multiple domains.
Denver Developmental Screening Test (DDST) Birth - 6 years A set of age-specific tasks that assess a child's development in areas such as fine and gross motor skills, language, and personal-social skills.

It's important to remember that developmental screening tools are not diagnostic instruments. If a child's screening results raise concerns, further evaluation by a healthcare professional, such as a developmental pediatrician or psychologist, may be recommended.

Developmental screening is a valuable tool in identifying potential developmental delays or concerns in children, including those related to autism spectrum disorder. By utilizing these screening tools, healthcare professionals can initiate the appropriate steps to ensure early intervention and support for children who may benefit from additional evaluation or services.

Autism-Specific Screening Tools

When it comes to screening for autism, there are specific tools designed to assess the presence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and help in early identification. These autism-specific screening tools are tailored to evaluate the unique behaviors and characteristics associated with autism. Let's take a closer look at the overview of autism-specific screening and some examples of these screening tools.

Overview of Autism-Specific Screening

Autism-specific screening tools are specifically designed to identify potential signs of ASD in individuals. These tools typically consist of questionnaires or checklists that assess various areas of development, social interaction, communication, and behavior. They are administered by parents, caregivers, or professionals who are familiar with the individual's behavior and can provide accurate responses.

These screening tools aim to identify signs and symptoms that align with the diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). They play a vital role in the early detection of autism, allowing for timely intervention and support, which can greatly improve long-term outcomes.

Examples of Autism-Specific Screening Tools

There are several autism-specific screening tools available that have been widely used in clinical and research settings. Here are a few examples:

  1. Autism Screening Questionnaire: This questionnaire is designed to screen for autism in children aged 6 months to 5 years. It includes questions about communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviors. It helps to identify early signs of autism and provides a preliminary assessment of the child's development.
  2. Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT): The M-CHAT is a widely used screening tool for toddlers aged 16 to 30 months. It consists of a series of questions that assess social communication and interaction skills. It can be completed by parents or caregivers and helps to identify potential red flags for autism.
  3. Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ): The SCQ is a questionnaire designed to screen for autism in individuals aged 4 years and older. It assesses social communication skills, language abilities, and repetitive behaviors. It provides valuable information to aid in the diagnostic process.

These are just a few examples of the autism-specific screening tools available. It's important to note that these tools are not diagnostic in nature but serve as initial screening measures to identify individuals who may require further assessment. If you notice any signs of autism in infants or have concerns about your child's development, it's recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or specialist who can guide you through the screening process.

By utilizing autism-specific screening tools, parents and professionals can gather valuable information to determine if further diagnostic assessment is necessary. Early identification and intervention are key in providing appropriate support and services to individuals with autism, enabling them to reach their full potential.

Diagnostic Assessment Tools

When it comes to autism screening, diagnostic assessment tools play a vital role in providing a comprehensive evaluation and determining if an individual meets the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis. These tools are typically used by healthcare professionals specializing in developmental disorders. Let's explore the purpose and some common diagnostic assessment tools used in the field.

Purpose and Role of Diagnostic Assessment

The purpose of a diagnostic assessment is to evaluate an individual's behavioral and developmental patterns to determine if they meet the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. These assessments often involve a comprehensive evaluation of the individual's communication skills, social interactions, and repetitive behaviors.

Diagnostic assessments help healthcare professionals accurately identify and diagnose autism spectrum disorders. They provide valuable information that guides the development of tailored intervention plans and appropriate support services for individuals with autism.

Common Diagnostic Assessment Tools

Several diagnostic assessment tools are used to evaluate individuals suspected of having autism. These tools assist in gathering the necessary information to make an accurate diagnosis. Here are some commonly used diagnostic assessment tools:

Diagnostic Assessment Tool Description
Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) The ADOS is an interactive assessment tool that involves direct observation of the individual's behavior and interactions. It consists of a series of structured activities designed to evaluate social communication skills and the presence of autism-related behaviors.
Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) The ADI-R is a comprehensive interview-based assessment tool conducted with the individual's primary caregiver. It focuses on gathering detailed information about the individual's developmental history, communication abilities, and social interactions.
Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) The CARS is a behavioral rating scale that evaluates the presence and severity of autism-related behaviors. It assesses areas such as social interactions, communication, and repetitive behaviors.
Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) The SCQ is a screening tool that assesses social communication skills and behavior. It consists of a series of questions completed by the individual's caregiver to provide information about the presence of autism-related symptoms.

It's important to note that these diagnostic assessment tools should be administered and interpreted by qualified healthcare professionals trained in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders. These professionals take into account multiple sources of information, including behavioral observations, interviews, and standardized assessments, to make an accurate diagnosis.

If you're concerned about your child's development or suspect they may have autism, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in autism spectrum disorders. They will guide you through the diagnostic process and help determine which assessment tools are most appropriate for your child's evaluation.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Screening Test

When it comes to choosing an autism screening test, there are several important factors to keep in mind. These factors can help guide you in selecting a test that is accurate, accessible, and supported by professional guidance.

Accuracy and Reliability

Accurate and reliable screening tests are crucial for identifying potential signs of autism. When considering a screening test, it's important to evaluate its accuracy and reliability in detecting autism-related behaviors and developmental delays.

Look for screening tests that have been validated through research and have demonstrated high sensitivity and specificity. Sensitivity refers to the test's ability to correctly identify individuals who have autism, while specificity refers to its ability to correctly identify individuals who do not have autism.

Consider seeking guidance from healthcare professionals or specialists who can recommend screening tests with proven accuracy and reliability. They can provide valuable insights and help you make informed decisions based on your child's specific needs and circumstances.

Accessibility and Cost

The accessibility and cost of an autism screening test are also important factors to consider. Accessibility refers to the ease of obtaining and administering the test, while cost refers to the financial implications associated with the test.

Ideally, choose a screening test that is easily accessible and can be conducted in various settings, such as pediatric clinics, schools, or community centers. Assess the availability of the test in your area and whether it can be easily incorporated into your child's regular healthcare visits.

Additionally, consider the cost of the screening test. Some tests may be covered by insurance or provided at a lower cost through public health programs. It's important to evaluate the financial implications and determine what resources are available to support the cost of the screening test.

Professional Guidance and Support

When choosing an autism screening test, it is beneficial to seek professional guidance and support. Healthcare professionals, such as pediatricians, psychologists, or developmental specialists, can provide valuable insights and assist in the selection of an appropriate screening test.

These professionals have the expertise to interpret screening results accurately and guide you through the next steps, whether it involves further evaluation or referral to specialists for a comprehensive diagnostic assessment. Their involvement ensures that the screening process is conducted in a comprehensive and informed manner.

By considering the factors of accuracy and reliability, accessibility and cost, and professional guidance and support, you can make an informed decision when choosing an autism screening test. Remember to consult with healthcare professionals who can provide personalized recommendations based on your child's unique circumstances.


What are some other signs of autism that parents should look out for?

In addition to the common signs mentioned earlier, there are other behaviors that may indicate autism in a child. These can include delayed motor skills, such as crawling or walking; difficulty with imaginative play; and trouble understanding nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions or tone of voice.

What if my child has already been screened for autism but I still have concerns?

It's important to remember that screening is not a one-time event. If you continue to have concerns about your child's development or notice new behaviors that may indicate autism, talk to your healthcare provider about additional screening or evaluation.

Are there any risk factors that increase the likelihood of a child developing autism?

While the exact causes of autism are not fully understood, there are some risk factors that have been identified. These can include having a sibling with autism, being born prematurely or at a low birth weight, and having certain genetic conditions.

What should I do if my child is diagnosed with autism?

If your child is diagnosed with autism, it's important to work closely with their healthcare providers and educators to develop an individualized treatment plan. This may include therapies such as ABA, speech-language therapy, and occupational therapy, as well as support services for the family.

Is it possible for children with autism to lead independent lives as adults?

Yes! With the right interventions and support services, individuals with autism can learn important skills and lead fulfilling lives as adults. It's important to focus on building strengths and abilities rather than just addressing deficits. Many individuals with autism go on to attend college, hold jobs, and live independently.


In conclusion, screening for autism is an important step in ensuring that children with autism receive the interventions and support they need to thrive. If you have any concerns about your child's social, language, or developmental skills, talk to your healthcare provider about screening for autism. Remember, early detection and intervention can make a world of difference for children with autism.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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