We’ve asked a licensed psychologist to provide information all parents need to know if they think their child may have autism and how to get an autism evaluation.
“What is autism?”Parent/Guardian
“Autism is a disorder that involves communication delays combined with limited social responses and repetitive or ritualistic behaviors (APA, 2013).
Autism is currently referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to emphasize that symptoms vary widely across the spectrum. The CDC has a great resource for the full diagnostic criteria for ASD.
Autism is now recognized as being highly prevalent. It is currently estimated that 1 in 44 children have ASD (CDC, 2021). This increase in prevalence is due to better recognition of early warning signs of ASD.
Potential warning signs may include limited social play (such as not returning greetings or playing with peers). This could also look like limited eye contact or engaging in repetitive toy play (like spinning items or lining up objects). None of these things are necessarily definite that a child has autism, but they are worth bringing to your pediatrician's attention.”Catherine Lark, PhD, BCBA-D, Licensed Psychologist (NJ)
“How are children referred for autism evaluations?”Parent/Guardian
“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children receive regular developmental screenings as well as specific screenings targeting ASD symptomology at the 18-month and 24-month well visits.
If a child receives an abnormal screening or if caregivers have concerns at any point about their child’s development, a pediatrician will discuss a potential referral for an ASD evaluation.
ASD can be diagnosed as young as 18 months old, although this diagnosis is most reliable beginning at 2 years of age (CDC, 2022).
Early diagnosis is very important, as this allows for more time to receive services targeting skill deficits and behavioral concerns.”Catherine Lark, PhD, BCBA-D, Licensed Psychologist (NJ)
“What is involved with the autism evaluation?”Parent/Guardian
“The autism evaluation process begins with an interview with caregivers to discuss the child’s development and current concerns.
Next, the Psychologist works directly with the child to assess for symptoms related to ASD. Assessment may also include examination of the child’s cognitive abilities.
Additional information is then collected related to the child’s day-to-day behaviors (known as adaptive behaviors) as well as their behavioral and emotional functioning.
Based on the information collected, the Psychologist will determine whether the child meets diagnostic criteria for ASD or another developmental disability.
After the evaluation is completed, the assessment results are reviewed with caregivers along with intervention recommendations. Should a child meet criteria for ASD, a referral for ABA services is given, along with a potential referral for ST and OT, depending on the child’s needs. Bierman Autism Centers offers aba therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy in addition to its diagnostic services.”Catherine Lark, PhD, BCBA-D, Licensed Psychologist (NJ)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. Autism Prevalence Higher in CDC’s ADDM Network. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/hcp-dsm.html
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
Dr. Catherine Lark is dedicated to bridging the gap between assessment and treatment services for children with developmental disabilities. In addition to providing diagnostic evaluations for children suspected of autism, Catherine also specializes in providing parent training support as well as implementing applied behavior analytic services. Catherine graduated with her PhD in School Psychology at Louisiana State University with an emphasis in ABA. She then completed her predoctoral internship and postdoctoral residency at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, Georgia with a focus on the assessment and treatment of severe problem behavior and the early intervention for significant language delays in children with autism and developmental disabilities. She recently moved to New Jersey after working as a licensed psychologist and doctoral behavior analyst in Louisiana for 3 years. In her free time, Catherine enjoys fostering animals, finding new restaurants, and spending time with friends and family.
Additional Resources for Families:
Bierman Autism Centers is a place where kids as young as 18 months to 9 years of age engage in play to learn foundational skills they can build on, such as self-advocacy and communication. They recognize that every kid’s success is unique, and their one-on-one approach allows them to drive progress, and measurable outcomes, while each child is advancing on their own terms.
With over 200 graduations, Bierman currently has centers and is expanding in: Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island. For more about Bierman Autism Centers, visit www.biermanautism.com.