Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are hard to diagnosis for many reasons. There are no tests for it, children have different symptoms, and ASD symptoms are similar to other health problems. Parents are usually the first to notice new or odd behaviors. They may also see forward development backslide or stop. A doctor may notice changes during a routine visit. If problems point to ASD, your child may have one or more of these:

  • A physical—The doctor will do an exam. The exam will look for certain features or responses common to ASD. A special skin test may be done to look for tuberous sclerosis.
  • Psychological tests—A interview will test how your child answers certain questions. The answers will be compared to others of the same age. Other tests will involve watching your child to test their motor skills, and hand or eye coordination. Their abilities will be compared to children the same age.
  • Genetic tests—To look for other genetic problems often linked to ASD such as fragile X syndrome.
  • Imaging tests—To look for brain injury.
  • EEG—To check the electrical activity of the brain.

The doctor will look for certain factors that suggest ASD. The American Psychiatric Association requires some or all of these:

  • Problems interacting with others
  • Not sharing
  • Problems understanding or keeping relationships
  • Not using speech when it should be used
  • Repetitive use of objects, movements, or speech
  • Inflexible to change
  • Intense focus
  • Overreaction to sensory information


Autism spectrum disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml. Updated March 2018. Accessed August 19, 2019.
Autism spectrum disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated July 1, 2019. Accessed August 19, 2019.
Diagnosis. Autism Society website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/Autism/Pages/Early-Signs-of-Autism-Spectrum-Disorders.aspx. Accessed August 19, 2019.
How is autism diagnosed? Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/Autism/Pages/Diagnosing-Autism.aspx. Updated September 4, 2015. Accessed August 19, 2019.
Johnson CP, Myers SM, American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities. Identification and evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics. 2007;120(5):1183-1215.
Screening and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html. April 26, 2018. Accessed August 19, 2019.
Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 8/19/2019

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