Early diagnosis allows a family to better understand their child, thus helping to reduce stress and family conflict. Autism spectrum disorders can be detected as early as 18 months of age. All children should be monitored for developmental milestones, but those children in high-risk groups, such as siblings of children on the spectrum, should be watched particularly closely.

Autism is not diagnosed by a single medical test or a brief observation. It requires a combination of screening, surveillance, and subjective, comprehensive evaluation by a professional. Assessment includes clinical observations, parent interviews, developmental histories, psychological testing, and speech and language assessments. Research continues to show that the earlier a child can begin receiving intervention for their symptoms of autism, the better their prognosis. There are two distinct types of assessment for a diagnosis: educational verification and medical diagnosis.

An educational verification is a process conducted by a school district to determine if a student has a disability. It also directs the planning and implementation of appropriate services to address the student’s individual needs. The verification will reflect assessments done by a multidisciplinary team. Verification is based on an educational model. When the child enters school, an accurate verification allows schools to become familiar with the child’s needs and to develop strategies to enable the child to be included in school life more fully. It also enables the school to develop appropriate educational strategies to maximize the child’s opportunities to learn. For a more detailed description and information please refer to “State Information” Under “Local Resources”.

A medical diagnosis is based on clinical observations completed by a developmental pediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP). Such a diagnosis is guided by the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) and is based on a medical model that takes a child’s medical, behavioral and communication status, family history, and developmental progress into account. Children who receive a medical diagnosis still require an educational verification in order to be considered eligible for special education programs.

Next Steps – A Guide For Families New to Autism  

Please refer to our Resource Center page for more information about diagnostics in Nebraska and southwest Iowa.

(Sources: The National Autism Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Department of Health and Human Services.)