Choosing Diagnostic Services

What should I Consider when Choosing Diagnostic/Evaluation Services?

There are a number of considerations when making this decision:

1. Accessibility:

How urgent is the evaluation? Is your child very young and are you concerned about a new diagnosis of autism? Do notwait to begin therapy or securing services you may need until after the diagnostic evaluation, especially if you are placed on a waiting list. Contact your local school district, early intervention services, community mental health agency and a speech/language pathologist. For some therapies, a diagnosis of autism is required before beginning the program. However, services like occupational and speech therapy can begin immediately in most organizations. Early intervention or school evaluations are conducted independently of the medical evaluation anyway, so there is no need to wait.

If you need a specialist urgently, contact your primary care provider or pediatrician and inquire about seeing a psychiatrist (especially if behavior is unsafe to the individual or others). Typically, medical facilities will hold appointments for urgent matters.

2. Components of the Evaluation:

Staff/Clinician:

Conducted by licensed physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and/or neurologists. Perhaps more important than the type of specialists you see, is the training, experience, and documentation of credentials that make that individual competent to diagnose autism. Autism a complex disorder which mirrors many other developmental and psychiatric disorders. Diagnosticians should be highly competent in recognizing the wide range of normal and atypical development, as well as being trained and experiences with multiple, differential diagnoses which might better explain behavior, communication, and social deficits than autism. To assure these recommendations are met, consider a multidisciplinary evaluation.

Inquire about the college/university the clinician attended. Quality university programs are accredited by specific college boards which apply rigorous standards for curriculum and training experiences.

Multiple specialists: We highly recommend evaluation by a multidisciplinary team of specialists, with expertise across at least 2-3 areas to assure an accurate and reliable diagnosis.

Assessment Protocol:

Thorough review of history through parent/caregiver report and previous evaluations:

1. Medical
2. Developmental
3. Educational

4. Therapy
5. Family history

Interview: Parent/Caregiver and Teacher/Child care provider (when applicable): To review history and present concerns.

Standardized assessment tools: A good evaluation should include extensive history review, parent/caregiver/teacher interviews/input, direct observation, standardized assessments (when possible), and use of autism specific protocols/tools.

Beware of professionals who make a diagnosis simply by observing your child for a short period of time and who do not use diagnostic tests/tools.

Assessment Results:

Make sure you come prepared with questions for the clinician. Prepare these ahead of time. Some questions you might consider asking:

1. What are the signs or behaviors you observed that led you to the diagnosis?
2. How did my child perform on the tests that were used?
3. What severity or functioning level do you feel my child is at? Can you place him/her in a PDD, Autism, or Aspergers diagnosis?
4. What other evaluations may be needed, to confirm the diagnosis or to assist in treatment planning?
5. What therapies will be most effective?
6. What educational services and supports will be needed?
7. Am I eligible for services and/or supports through Community Mental Health?
8. Where can I get information about low cost therapies? Are there other sources of funding which are available for therapy costs?
9. Are there on-line sources which might be helpful to understand the disorder or help me locate services?
10. Where can I go to get legal advice or learn about my rights as a parent?

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