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Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

Mar 30, 2023, 15:02 PM by Sara Nimmons, MD, Sansum Clinic Pediatrician


Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that can affect a child's behavior and social and communications skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children be screened for autism spectrum disorder at their 18- and 24-month well-child checkups. 

Child and mother coloring

If Autism is Suspected, What’s Next?

When autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is suspected, your child will need a full assessment or evaluation, and should be referred for intervention. 

A full assessment or evaluation for ASD is needed before arriving at a diagnosis. 

Ideally, this is done by a team of professionals and includes asking parents and caregivers a number of questions, observing the child, performing a physical examination, and administering various tests. 

Intervention for ASD consists of several different things. First, your child's pediatrician may prescribe medically-necessary therapies such as speech, behavioral, and/or occupational therapy. 

  • If your child is under 3 years old, he or she should also be referred to your state's Early Intervention (EI) program. 

  • If your child is 3 years old or older, he or she can be evaluated, and likely enrolled, in your local school district's special education services. 

  • If your child is between 3 and 5 years old, he or she may be eligible to attend a developmental preschool program for children in need of more support. Contact your local school district. 

Typically, an evaluation to assess speech/language and social delays can include:

  • Careful observation of play and child-caregiver interactions

  • Detailed history and physical examination

  • Review of records of previous early intervention services, school, or other evaluations

  • Developmental assessment of all skills (motor, language, social, self-help, cognitive) ASD is suspected when the child's social and language functioning are significantly more impaired than the overall level of motor, adaptive, and cognitive skills.

  • Hearing test. All children with any speech/language delays or those suspected of having ASD should have their hearing formally tested.

  • Language evaluation that provides standardized scores of expressive language (including speech) and receptive language (understanding language), as well as an evaluation of pragmatic language (social use of language) and articulation (pronunciation)

‚ÄčWhy ALL children are screened for autism: 

If your child does have autism, an early diagnosis is better because then your child can start receiving the help he or she needs. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all children be screened for ASD at their 18- and 24-month well-child checkups. 

When dealing with an autism diagnosis, it’s important to know there are many steps along the journey. Calling your insurance provider will help, as all benefits vary based on individual plans and in some cases prior authorizations may be needed for certain services. 

At Sansum Clinic Pediatrics, we believe early intervention is key to your child receiving resources available within the local community. If you have questions or concerns, call our office at (805) 563-6211 to schedule an appointment to talk with your primary care provider.

Dr. Sara Nimmons >

Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine >