Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects a person’s ability to communicate and develop social skills. A child may exhibit repetitive behavior, delayed speech, a desire to play alone, poor eye contact, and other behaviors. Symptoms are often apparent by age 2.

Many of these symptoms are hard to pinpoint. They might be confused with personality traits or developmental issues. That’s why it’s essential to see a professional if you suspect that your child has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a number of different doctors and specialists will play an important role in helping with an ASD diagnosis.

To reach a diagnosis, doctors will observe your child’s behavior and ask you questions about their development. This process can include a number of different professionals from different fields.

Below are some of the assessments and the different specialists who may play a role in your child’s diagnosis.

Your pediatrician or family doctor will perform initial screenings as a standard part of your child’s regular checkups.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends standardized autism-specific screening tests at 18 and 24 months of age in addition to general developmental surveillance.

Your doctor can assess your child’s development in the areas of:

  • language
  • behavior
  • social skills

If your doctor notices anything atypical about your child, you may be referred to a specialist.

Before making an appointment with any specialists, make sure they are experienced in ASD diagnostics. Ask your pediatrician for several names in case you want a second or third opinion later.

Currently, there’s no official test for diagnosing autism.

For the most accurate diagnosis, your child will undergo ASD screening. This isn’t a medical test. No blood test or scan can detect ASD. Instead, screening involves prolonged observation of your child’s behavior.

Here are some screening tools doctors may use for evaluation:

  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers
  • Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ)
  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)
  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule — Generic (ADOS-G)
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS)
  • Gilliam Autism Rating Scale
  • Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS)
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorders Screening Test — Stage 3
  • Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT)

Doctors use tests to see if children are learning basic skills when they should, or if there might be a delay. In addition, you will take part in detailed parental interviews about your child.

Specialists who perform these types of tests include:

  • developmental pediatricians
  • pediatric neurologists
  • child clinical psychologists or psychiatrists
  • physical therapists
  • speech therapists

ASD can sometimes be complicated to diagnose. Your child may need a team of specialists to determine whether they have ASD.

The differences between ASD and other types of development disorders are subtle. That’s why it’s important to see well-trained specialists and seek out second and third opinions.

ASDs vary, and each child will have their own needs.

Working with a team of specialists, your child’s educators will need to make their own assessments about what, if any, special services a child needs in school. This evaluation can happen independently of a medical diagnosis.

The evaluation team may include:

  • psychologists
  • hearing and vision specialists
  • social workers
  • teachers

If your doctor suspects that your child has ASD, you may have so many questions that you don’t know where to start.

Here is a list of helpful questions compiled by the Mayo Clinic:

  • What factors make you suspect my child does, or doesn’t, have ASD?
  • How do we confirm the diagnosis?
  • If my child does have ASD, how can we determine the severity?
  • What changes can I expect to see in my child over time?
  • What kind of care or special therapies do children with ASD need?
  • What kinds of regular medical and therapeutic care will my child need?
  • Is there support available to families of children with ASD?
  • How can I learn more about ASD?

ASD is common. Autistic people can thrive with the right communities for support. But early intervention can help reduce any challenges your child may experience.

If needed, customizing support to meet your child’s needs can be successful in helping them navigate their world. A healthcare team of doctors, therapists, specialists, and teachers can create a plan for your individual child.