As a parent, there is no way to prepare for the words “autism spectrum disorder” when used to describe your child’s behavior. Whether it’s the concern of a teacher or a trusted pediatrician, it’s important to understand what an autism diagnosis could mean for your child. One of the most important steps is to learn the difference between a typical autism screening performed by a pediatrician and a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation using ADOS testing. Let’s talk about the key differences.

Initial Screening by the Pediatrician

From the very first well-child visit, your pediatrician is assessing your child for developmental or communication challenges that could be indicators of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The pediatrician observes how your child looks to you for reassurance, responds to his or her name, makes and maintains eye contact, smiles and shows joyful expressions, among other things. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, all children should be formally screened at their 18- and 24-month well-child visit.

The most common screenings utilized by doctors include the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) and the Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT). As the name suggests, the M-CHAT is a questionnaire completed by parents to help the doctor assess the child for signs of ASD. The STAT looks for indicators of autism in more depth than the M-CHAT, but the aim of both is to identify children who should be considered for further evaluation.

Formal Diagnosis with ADOS Testing

It is important to note that the results of an initial screening done by your pediatrician are not a formal diagnosis. Furthermore, tests such as the M-CHAT or STAT are purposefully designed to test any child, meaning that while they broadly assess for developmental warning signs, these signs may or may not indicate autism. If the screening process raises any red flags from your pediatrician, the next step is a comprehensive evaluation by a professional trained in ASD diagnosis. Most likely, your pediatrician will refer out for this type of assessment. This is where ADOS testing comes into play.

Since screening tools are not designed to provide conclusive evidence or formal diagnoses, it is important to pursue further testing for your child. The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, or ADOS-2, is a diagnostic instrument that can be adapted for a broad age range of children. The purpose of this instrument is to evaluate social, communication, and/or behavioral difficulties that your child may display during the test.

Through ADOS testing, a clinician will assess your child’s conduct during a set of standardized scenarios, such as whether or not they ask for help when needed or how well they are able to follow a change in subject. The ADOS test may also be paired with the Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised (ADI-R), to gather further information. These tests provide a complete view of your child’s current development and potential concerns, allowing the clinician to make an appropriate diagnosis and provide intervention recommendations.

Scheduling ADOS Testing for Your Child

If you suspect that your child may have a form of autism, or if your child has already received a positive screening for ASD, LifeStance Health  is here to walk you through the next steps. Our clinicians offer comprehensive autism testing services and partner with families during the initial evaluation, formal diagnosis, intervention planning, and beyond. If you are ready to schedule ADOS testing for your child, contact us today.