If You’re Concerned
If you think your child might have ASD (see Signs & Symptoms) or you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, or acts, contact your child’s doctor and share your concerns.

If you or the doctor is still concerned, ask the doctor for a referral to a specialist who can do a more in-depth evaluation of your child. Specialists who can do a more in-depth evaluation and make a diagnosis include:
  • Developmental Pediatricians (doctors who have special training in child development and children with special needs)
  • Child Neurologists (doctors who work on the brain, spine, and nerves)
  • Child Psychologists or Psychiatrists (doctors who know about the human mind)
At the same time, call your state’s public early childhood system to request a free evaluation to find out if your child qualifies for intervention services. This is sometimes called a Child Find evaluation. You do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral or a medical diagnosis to make this call.

Where to call for a free evaluation from the state depends on your child’s age:
  • If your child is not yet 3 years old, contact your local early intervention system. You can find the right contact information for your state by calling the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001 Or visit the ECTA website.
  • If your child is 3 years old or older, contact your local public school system. Even if your child is not yet old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, call your local elementary school or board of education and ask to speak with someone who can help you have your child evaluated.
  • If you’re not sure who to contact, call the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001. Or visit the ECTA website. 

Research shows that early intervention services can greatly improve a child’s development.2, 3 In order to make sure your child reaches his or her full potential, it is very important to get help for an ASD as soon as possible.

Screening and Diagnosis
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult, since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Specialists look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis.

ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with an ASD might not get the help they need.

Diagnosing an ASD takes two steps:
  • Developmental Screening
  • Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation
Developmental Screening
Developmental screening is a short test to tell if children are learning basic skills when they should, or if they might have delays. During developmental screening the doctor might ask the parent some questions or talk and play with the child during an exam to see how she learns, speaks, behaves, and moves. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a problem.

All children should be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child doctor visits at, 9 months, 18 months, and 24 months. Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birth weight or other reasons.

In addition, all children should be screened specifically for ASD during regular well-child doctor visits at 18 months &24 months.

Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for ASD (e.g., having a sister, brother or other family member with an ASD) or if behaviors sometimes associated with ASD are present.
It is important for doctors to screen all children for developmental delays, but especially to monitor those who are at a higher risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birth weight, or having a brother or sister with an ASD.

If your child’s doctor does not routinely check your child with this type of developmental screening test, ask that it be done.

If the doctor sees any signs of a problem, a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation is needed.

Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation
The second step of diagnosis is a comprehensive evaluation. This thorough review may include looking at the child’s behavior and development and interviewing the parents. It may also include a hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, neurological testing, and other medical testing.

In some cases, the primary care doctor might choose to refer the child and family to a specialist for further assessment and diagnosis.