What to Expect from Autism Testing: The Process for an Autism Diagnosis for Children
June 13, 2023
June 13, 2023
For families of individuals who are suspected of having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the autism testing process may seem mysterious, and maybe even intimidating for some–but it doesn’t have to be that way! At Hopebridge, we have a focused approach around early identification and our team is here to make it as seamless as possible for you.
To shed light on the assessment from start to finish, we talked to our testing team to outline what an autism evaluation looks like from a parent’s perspective in six simple steps:
The initial step of the evaluation process is the referral. Referrals come to Hopebridge by phone, fax or the contact form on the ‘Get Started‘ page of our website or Facebook questionnaire. Likewise, a referral may come directly from a parent or physician who suspects a child may be on the spectrum. Referrals are facilitated by our patient intake department, which records patient and guardian information, including insurance, primary care physician and any other medical information necessary to continue.
During the intake portion of the process, one of Hopebridge’s client advocates will obtain and verify the child’s insurance benefits. Once completed, the client advocate calls the family to ensure they understand the benefits that will be covered. At this time, he or she also walks them through the basics of the test for autism and provides information on applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy). When the family confirms their desire to continue the evaluation process, the client advocate works to obtain a prior authorization for the appointment.
As soon as the pre-authorization for the evaluation is obtained from the insurance company, the appointment is scheduled based on availability of the parent and the clinician who will complete the evaluation. Hopebridge’s testing team consists of clinical psychologists, nurse practitioners, pediatricians, occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists. Members of this team are specially trained and highly qualified to conduct diagnostic testing for autism before presenting their findings to a psychologist or doctor of medicine to provide the formal diagnosis. The testing appointment occurs at one of the family’s local Hopebridge testing centers.
Appointments can be accommodated within as early as two weeks, in some cases. Even at the later end, around 90 days, wait times are still often up to six months earlier than other local options.
Important paperwork – which includes questions regarding the child’s developmental milestones, behaviors and medical history – is sent electronically to caregivers to complete prior to the appointment. The parent interview is crucial to the assessment and will be taken into consideration alongside other measures.
It is expected that you and your child arrive 30 minutes prior to your scheduled appointment time, at which time guardians are asked to sign in at Hopebridge’s front desk. If you have not yet completed your paperwork prior to arrival, we recommend you arrive 45 minutes early to your appointment to ensure time to complete your required paperwork. Expect the entire appointment to last approximately two hours.
During a testing appointment, we may use a combination of standardized measures to determine if the criteria, as defined by the DSM-5, is met. For example, one tool that can be used is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale, Second Edition (ADOS-2) which assesses communication, social interaction and play through four modules and requires approximately one hour to administer. The assessment itself may vary slightly from child to child, depending on a few different factors related to the individual being evaluated, such as speech level and age.
For example, for a younger child who does not speak verbally, the evaluation involves a number of activities designed to bring out behaviors and social characteristics associated with autism spectrum disorder. To parents, this part of the test for autism might sometimes appear as though their child was simply playing, however, the clinician is facilitating specific scenarios and activities to closely observe the child’s behaviors, social skills and sensory responses.
In the case of a child who is fully verbal, the assessment involves more than a dozen activities, all of which are designed to bring out speech, language patterns, behavior and social characteristics found in an individual with autism spectrum disorder. To parents, this would appear as though the evaluator was observing and interacting with the child while he or she is engaged in different types of activities, including play and problem-solving.
Following the administration portion of the evaluation, members of the testing team will score the assessment(s). There are a few different scenarios for scoring.
In some cases, the clinician may tabulate the score during the appointment, then share the results of the evaluation with the parents that day and answer any questions that might arise. Other times, the patient and caregiver may have a second virtual appointment with a psychologist for further interview of findings and recommendations. It is also possible that the testing team will send a summary of the test scores and observations to the child’s primary care physician, who will ultimately determine if the child meets the criteria for ASD.
If the patient was diagnosed with ASD, the testing team alerts Hopebridge’s patient intake team to the diagnosis.
It’s important to note that Hopebridge’s diagnostic evaluation appointments are specifically focused on autism in order to improve access to early identification and early intervention for as many children and families as possible. If the clinician feels there are other factors beyond autism that could be affecting the child, they can refer or recommend the caregiver seek additional testing or support.
Once the client advocate receives the completed diagnostic report (if the diagnosis is ASD), they begin the process of obtaining an authorization for therapy evaluations, including ABA, speech and occupational therapy, which is the next step to getting life-changing care. As with autism testing, once prior verification is obtained from the insurance company, the client advocate will contact the parents to schedule the appointment for a date and time that works well with the family and the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist.
At the time of the evaluations, should the BCBA or therapist recommend services, pre-authorization for therapy is obtained as well. Once prior authorization is submitted and the center has the resources in place to accept a new kiddo to the program, the onboarding manager will coordinate a start date for therapy – it’s really as simple as that!
With this brief outline, we hope this clears up some questions (and answers!) for you. At Hopebridge, our mission is to help children with autism lead their best lives, and many times, that begins with the autism evaluation. Get scheduled today by filling out the easy form on our website and we can set up your child for autism testing soon.