baby at the doctor

There are several signs and symptoms that indicate that a child has autism, and they usually show up during the first years of their life.

With that in mind, this article covers all that you need to know about how autism is detected, screened for, and diagnosed.

How young can autism be detected?

One could get diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at any age. Some children start to show symptoms when they turn 18 months old or prior to that.

Most of the time, however, the main signs of autism will appear before a child’s second birthday.

It should be noted that, in certain cases, people may only receive an ASD diagnosis as teenagers or adults. This is because their symptoms can’t be clearly observed during childhood or are relatively less severe.

What are some early signs of autism?

If your son or daughter has autism, they could display one or more of the following signs and symptoms when they’re an infant or young child:

  • They have a limited vocabulary in comparison to kids of the same age, find it hard to verbally express themselves, and/or struggle with developing their general linguistic skills.
  • The girl or boy doesn’t engage with or express interest in interacting with others, such as their classmates and caregivers.
  • They make little to no eye contact.
  • Small adjustments to their schedule can make them sad or agitated.

Now that you know a few of the main early signs of autism, you will be able to identify them as soon as your child starts to display them. In turn, you need to take your son or daughter to their doctor for a screening and potential diagnosis.

The Process of Diagnosing Autism

To diagnose ASD, doctors and medical professionals rely on a two-part process.


First of all, the doctor screens your daughter or son for ASD symptoms. Equally as important is that they will ensure that your child doesn’t have other disabilities and conditions.

During the screening, an expert practitioner conducts specific tests and assessments to examine their behavioral, communication, and social capabilities. When needed, they may also evaluate how severe the boy or girl’s autism is.

Here are some of the tests and assessments that medical professionals rely on in the screening part of the process:

  • ThinkAsperger’s: This mobile app is a helpful screening instrument for both parents and health care practitioners.
  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised with Follow-Up (M-CHAT-R/F): A short yes/no checklist, this screen tool is particularly designed for children that are between the ages of 16 and 30 months.
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS): CARS consists of a 15-point scale that looks at how a child uses their body, interacts with others, communicates, reacts to changes in their environment, and responds to sounds.
  • Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADI-R): This is a semi-structured interview that trained professionals conduct with parents.
  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – Generic (ADOS-G): This interview is more structured, and it entails directed activities, as well. The two interview types are usually done prior to finalizing an ASD diagnosis.

The Diagnosis

The second part is the diagnosis, itself. Here, the medical practitioner informs you whether they diagnosed your child with autism or not.

Next, in the event of an ASD diagnosis, the health care professional will point you towards the appropriate therapy options.

ABA Therapy

The most effective and widely-recognized treatment for autism is applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy.

After a child is formally diagnosed with ASD, a trained and certified ABA practitioner (or a team of them) can create an individualized plan for the girl or boy that takes the following aspects into consideration:

  • The Length of the Sessions: Based on the severity of their ASD symptoms, children may require between 10 and 40 hours of ABA therapy per week.
  • Treatment Frequency: Similarly, the ABA therapist would determine when the length of these sessions is increased or decreased. This depends on how well your child responds to the treatment.
  • Location: Many ABA therapists will come to your home for one-on-one sessions, but some of them conduct them at their office. When suitable, the therapist might have your child participate in group sessions with other kids.

If possible, you want to find a therapist that specializes in working with children with autism that are your daughter or son’s age.

This is because the symptoms and developmental challenges that your child could face largely depend on how old they are. In fact, this is reflected in what doctors look for when they oversee screening tests and evaluations.

What may a doctor look for during a screening?

The doctor or trained medical professional might ask you about the following milestones that are related to your child’s age:

  • 6 Months: Did they smile for the first time when or before they turned 6 months old?
  • 9 Months: Have they started to make or mimic facial expressions, noises, and sounds?
  • 1 Year: Did they begin to attempt to speak/babble and coo?

In the same vein, the doctor or practitioner will discuss these behaviors, habits, and problems with you:

  • Anger management (some children with autism can easily become angry or agitated)
  • Comprehension of how people around them act or behave
  • Digestion issues
  • Eye-contact tendencies
  • How they react when their name is called
  • Interactions with others
  • Repetitive or odd behaviors
  • Sensitivities to lights, noises, and/or abnormal temperatures
  • Sleep problems
  • A flat voice tone

As mentioned earlier, a doctor or medical practitioner will ask you about your child’s symptoms during the screening process.

In turn, they try to identify if they have initial signs of ASD (which mainly appear prior to the boy or girl’s second birthday), such as minimal eye contact, communication challenges, and mood swings.

Next, after the doctor detects, screens for, and then diagnoses your child with autism, they will point you towards the appropriate treatment options, with ABA therapy being the most prominent one.


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 631-8313. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.


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