Diagnostic assessments for autism & other concerns
Is an autism assessment right for me?
Here are some common reasons why people pursue an assessment:
- Another professional has suggested you look into autism testing for your child or for yourself
- You recognize signs in your child and you want to be proactive in case these signs are consistent with autism
- You’ve always sensed something was different about your child’s (or your own) development, and now that life has become more complex, you see that some of these difficulties are surfacing and you wonder if autism helps explain what you/your child are experiencing
- You want to make sure your child is getting the interventions that are most effective for them
- You are an adult and you have always felt different or misunderstood, and wonder if ASD could explain some of what you have experienced
What is the process of ASD testing?
An assessment starts with an initial intake meeting. For a child or adolescent, the first meeting is typically for parents. Older teens may join the parent intake or attend their own subsequent intake meeting. During the intake, we review your reasons for seeking the assessment, your specific goals, and primary concerns. The clinician will also ask you for background information, like family and medical history. At the end of the intake, we collaboratively discuss a game plan for the rest of the assessment.
This typically involves the ‘gold standard’ measures for autism, including the Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI), the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), and a measure of adaptive functioning. The ADI is an in-depth developmental history interview, usually conducted with parents. The ADOS is a play-based or conversation-based structured interaction conducted with the client. Depending on your specific concerns or goals for the assessment, it may be informative to talk with teachers or other providers or to do other testing, like cognitive, achievement, or executive functioning assessments. We always discuss this with you and individualize the plan to meet your needs.
Feedback & summary
Usually about 2 weeks after we complete testing, we meet go over the results, clinical impressions, and recommendations and next steps together. We will review a written outline of your results together. We believe that the assessment process itself can be therapeutic. It can help explain a person’s experience and provide a framework to help others understand the person. It can lead to “ah-ha!” moments, provide validation, and facilitate insight. Some people describe this as a big relief. But having specific recommendations for next steps is also an integral part of the process, and we want to make sure you have a plan in place once the assessment is complete.
Comprehensive written report
About 6 weeks after your assessment, we provide you with a comprehensive written report, elaborating on the outline we reviewed during the feedback meeting. The report includes details of the testing process, test scores, a summary of the findings, and an outline of recommendations. The report is given to you, and it’s up to you who you’d like to share it with. Sometimes it can be helpful to share this with schools or other professionals working with you or your child.
Common concerns about testing
“I don’t want to label my child.”
“I don’t want other people, especially teachers or family members, to judge my child or see them differently.”
It’s your choice who you share the report with, and you are not obligated to share it with a school or other professionals, or with family members. We do however recommend sharing it with school staff if there are accommodations that could be helpful in the school setting. We can help facilitate this by outlining suggestions for accommodations and communicating with school staff.
We also believe in highlighting strengths! Sharing the diagnosis with others also means educating them about the amazing unique strengths that many autistic people possess. For example, you can start the conversation by highlighting someone’s skills (“You know how John has incredible memory?” or “You know how Anne has incredible knowledge about her interests?” or “You know how Jack becomes super dedicated to his projects, where he can intensely focus until he finishes it?”). You might even remind your family member that you never had to teach your child or yourself these skills. But, there are other skills that other people may have picked up more easily – like reading subtle facial expressions or tone of voice – that your child (or you) needs more support with. In other words, explaining that someone has autism does not mean you are disclosing terrible news; instead, this is an opportunity to point out the unique and diverse ways that you or your child process the world, and appreciate how a diagnosis helps make sense of it.
“I don’t want my child to think there is something wrong with them.”
This is all dependent on the approach we take as parents and clinicians. The goal of an assessment is not to figure out what is ‘wrong’ with someone. It is to find out their strengths as well as challenges, what makes them unique, and how they interact with the world around them. Most kids and teens like the idea of finding out more about how their brain works.
It’s been our experience, after years of conducting diagnostic assessments for autism, that older children, teens, and adults sense when their brain works differently from ‘neurotypical’ people. Learning more about this… that there is a name for it, that there are others who fall under the same ‘umbrella’ of autism, that there is an explanation for why certain things may seem more difficult whereas other things come easier compared to their peers, and that autistic people are successful and make wonderful contributions to this world, can come as a huge relief. It can be validating to learn that yes, your brain does work a bit differently, and there is a reason why!
Having a diagnosis doesn’t give someone something to fight; it helps them understand what they have been up against, and which strategies work best for them.
An autism assessment answers the question, “Does my child [or do I] meet diagnostic criteria for autism?” During this assessment, we also screen for additional psychiatric symptoms to help us determine the differential diagnosis, and we may include cognitive testing if relevant.
If there are additional questions related to academic achievement, personality, and other neuropsychological processes, please inquire about our program for complex assessments, in collaboration with our testing partner, Dr. Palm, founder of the Southern California Center for Collaborative Assessment. This can also be discussed at your first intake meeting.