Autism Acceptance Month: What if it’s Autism? When Your Child Needs an Assessment

autism assessment child psychologist

It can be a scary thought that maybe your child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Many parents wonder about their child’s development after seeing something on social media or hearing stories from friends and family. Other parents have heard concerns from their child’s pediatrician, teacher, or other professionals working with their child. No matter where these concerns have come from, parents are left wondering: What if my child’s difficulties are because they have Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder. It develops in early childhood and is associated with differences in development. There are many symptoms of Autism, but all symptoms fall into two different categories. The first category includes differences in social communication and interaction. Children with Autism struggle with the back-and-forth of interactions. For example, they may not seek out others, ask for help, respond to others, show or share their interests, or engage in things like “small talk.” They may also struggle with non-verbal communication, such as using eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions to communicate. Finally, they may struggle with peers. For example, they may need help understanding friendships, have difficulty taking others’ perspectives, or have low social motivation.

The second category of Autism symptoms includes differences in behaviours. Children with Autism may struggle with repetitive speech, play, or motor movements, including behaviours like hand flapping, lining up toys, or using phrases from movies out of context. They may also be rigid about routines or rituals. They may become upset when routines need to change or when asked to transition between activities. Children with Autism may also experience passionate interests or a limited variety of interests. Finally, children with Autism often seek out sensory experiences; for example, they may like to examine toys or watch fans spin. They may also become distressed by certain sensory stimuli, such as loud noises.

Once parents have come to wonder about an Autism diagnosis, they are often unsure of what to do next. You can always speak to your child’s doctor about developmental concerns! Other professionals supporting your child’s development, such as Speech and Language Pathologists or Occupational Therapists, may help you navigate the next steps. If your child is displaying signs of Autism, you may need to seek out a Psychology Assessment for your child. Autism Spectrum Disorder can be diagnosed as early as 18 months, but many adolescents and adults are also being diagnosed. It is never too late to pursue an assessment for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Because Autism is a complex diagnosis with a lot of symptoms to evaluate, assessment for Autism tends to involve several appointments over time and collecting a lot of information through the use of observations, checklists, and interviews. The psychologist assessing your child will usually want to meet with parents first to understand your concerns and collect information about your family, your child’s school, their interests, and experiences. The psychologist will then meet with your child and evaluate different areas of their functioning. Often, your child will complete standardized testing of their thinking and problem-solving skills. Their social skills will also be assessed using play-based activities. These activities will differ based on age and language skills. Your psychologist will also ask for permission to speak to your child’s teacher or daycare provider. This is an important part of the assessment process! Teachers and daycare providers often see your child in groups of their peers. They can provide rich information about their social skills because of this. You and your child’s teacher will be asked to complete checklists about your child’s behaviours, which can help rule out other explanations for their behaviours. Finally, parents are usually asked to complete a detailed developmental history interview, which asks questions specific to common symptoms of Autism. After collecting all of this information, your psychologist will write a Psychology Assessment Report. This report will include all of the data collected for the assessment, will talk about the psychologist’s reasoning for or against a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and will make recommendations about possible interventions that will be helpful for your child. Finally, you will meet with your psychologist to review your child’s assessment results together. This can be an emotional meeting for parents. I hope parents will leave that session feeling like their child’s experience is understood and their family has a clear path to move forward.

Even if your child is not diagnosed with Autism, you did not seek out an assessment for no reason. Your psychologist will have recommendations to help support your child’s needs, no matter the reason for their difficulties. If you would like to discuss having your child assessed, reach out to us!

Stay tuned for my next post about some of the unique ways children with Autism make the world a more beautiful place to live!

 

Author:

Dr. Heather Eritz, Ph.D., Registered Doctoral Psychologist