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June 25, 2021

When Should You Get Your Child Tested For Autism Spectrum Disorder?


In my field, a big decision that parents can struggle with is deciding whether to get their child tested for autism spectrum disorder or sensory processing challenges. I understand this is a huge decision, so I invited my friend & colleague Dr Avital Cohen from Peachtree Pediatric Psychology to talk with us about the importance of early intervention & to hopefully help destigmatize receiving diagnoses. Here is what she has to say –

How much of a difference can early intervention make?

Initial research studies indicate significant differences for outcomes in kids when assessment is started at a young age. More research is needed, but it makes sense to think that working with children at a younger age would be associated with better outcomes.

The younger we are, the easier it is to learn a new skill. Just like children are natural sponges for picking up a second language when they are young, so too do I believe that starting to teach social skills and language development at a young age to kids on the spectrum means we are working with kids when their brain is as plastic and open to learning as possible.

Is early diagnosis only important for diagnoses like Autism Spectrum Disorder?

No, correctly identifying other concerns early (learning disabilities, ADHD, sensory challenges, etc.) can also impact long-term prognosis. For example, some kids with ADHD get negative feedback about their behaviors and begin to internalize the negative statements they hear, which can trigger anxiety and/or depression.

Additionally, in learning, it is essential that the early building blocks set a solid foundation for future learning. If a child is struggling to get the concepts they should be picking up in kindergarten, it is only going to get exceedingly more difficult for them to keep up in 1st grade and so on.

How young is too young for an evaluation? Can’t I wait to see if he/she will grow out of it?

Previously, many parents were told by their pediatricians or other individuals to wait when they expressed concerns about their child’s early development. However, with all we have learned about early intervention, this is changing.

While it is true there are a wide range of ages in which kids achieve early milestones, there are also red flags that can be noticed at an early age. Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder can start as young as 12 months with our current tools, with some research looking into red flags as young as 9 months.

Most pediatricians in Atlanta now use the M-CHAT to screen for concerns. The M-CHAT is a great screening tool to help determine if consultation with a developmental specialist is needed. The CDC has a great milestone tracker that can help parents have conversations with their pediatrician about any areas of concern.

I don’t want a label for my child – why should I go in for an evaluation?

I encourage parents to keep in mind that “labels” or the diagnoses we use are really a way for providers to communicate to each other about the combination of behaviors they are seeing with a child.

A label does not change who your child is, but may help providers know what needs to be done to support any areas of delay. Additionally, without a diagnosis, getting services covered by insurance is pretty much impossible!

Without a doubt, early intervention is paramount to our children’s success if we suspect there are challenges occurring underneath the surface. If this is hitting home for you, I urge you to use the CDC milestone tracker Dr Cohen mentioned & to reach out to a professional for their expert advice.

As always, we are more than willing to discuss your concerns with you as well so please don’t hesitate to reach out. Let’s get the ball rolling and get your child the support they need together!

Dr Avital Cohen is a licensed psychologist & owner of Peachtree Pediatric Psychology located in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Her primary focus is the assessment of autism spectrum disorders, as well as developmental delays, learning difficulties, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and more.

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