(ARD Fact Sheet
Diagnosing & Evaluating Autism: Part 1
autism and related disabilities, such as PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder -not
. .rl'erwise specified), Asperger's syndrome, and Rett's syndrome, are difficult to diagnose, especially in
, .mg children where speech and reasoning skills are still developing. A child may be three years old
I-, tore the full characteristics of these disabilities are apparent. Typically, medical professionals are not
rr ined extensively in diagnosing and evaluating autism and related disabilities. Doctors will usually
u.,le out other possibilities before mentioning autism.
Although autism is considered a neurological disability, no specific medical test or procedure can
,.. firm a diagnosis of autism. To gather more information that will accurately profile an individual's
utrcngth's and needs, a variety of tests, assessments, and evaluations should be administered.
Part 1 of this fact sheet includes brief descriptions of some medical tests and evaluations that may
be ordered for children suspected of having autism or a related disability.
Given the variety of theories about the causes of autism and related disabilities doctors may use
various medical tests and procedures to help with diagnosis.
There is not always a clinical need to do medical tests. Your doctors) can recommend when, or if,
a test should be done.
The Jolloni.'g medical tests may help with diagnosis and possibly suggest changes in an intervention or
Hearing: Various tests such as an audiogram, typanogram, and the brain stem evoked response can
indicate whether a person has a hearing impairment. Audiologists or hearing specialists, have methods
to test the hearing of any individual by measuring responses such as turning their head, blinking, or
staring when a sound is presented.
If a hearing impairment is detected, treatment could involve minor surgery, use of hearing
aids, or antibiotics.
Electroencephalogram (EEG): An EEG measures brain waves that can show seizure disorders. In
addition, an EEG may indicate tumors or other brain abnormalities. Additional tests will be needed
to make an accurate diagnosis of these conditions. During an EEG, sixteen small sensors are placed at
various locations on the scalp to record brain waves that a neurologist interprets. An EEG may take
one to 24 hours depending on the doctor's goals when ordering the test.
If seizure activity is detected, additional testing may be required and various medications could
Metabolic Screening: Blood and urine lab tests measure how a person metabolizes food and its impact
on growth and development. Some autism spectrum disorders can be treated with special diets.
The following medical tests may help locate neurological factors that can affect typical
development and could possibly identify or rule out a cause. Results will probably not change
intervention or treatment.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): An MRI involves using magnetic sensing equipment to
create an image of the brain in extremely fine detail. The patient lies on a sliding table inside a cylinder
shaped magnetic machine and must be still during the procedure. Sometimes patients are sedated in
order to complete the MRI.
Computer Assisted Axial Tomography (CAT SCAN): An x-ray tube rotates around the patient
taking thousands of exposures that are sent to a computer where the section of the body that is x-
rayed is reconstructed in great detail. CAT Scans are helpful in diagnosing structural problems with
Genetic Testing: Blood tests look for abnormalities in the genes which could cause a
Many individuals with autism and related disabilities require
some form of special therapy at some point during their lives.
Therapeutic evaluations can help determine if therapy is required
to help an individual fulfill their potential.
Speech-Language Therapy: People with autism usually
have delays in communication. The most obvious is when
they are nonverbal. Yet people who are verbal may also have
Some individuals can repeat words but can't use language in
a meaningful way which is called echolalia. A speech pathologist
who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of language
problems and speech disorders can help a person learn how to
Speech therapists look for a system of communication that will
work for an individual with autism and may consider alternatives
to the spoken word such as signing, typing, or a picture board
Occupational Therapy: Commonly focuses on improving
fine motor skills, such as brushing teeth, feeding, and writing,
or sensory motor skills that include balance (vestibular system),
awareness of body position (proprioceptive system), and touch
After the therapist identifies a specific problem, therapy may
include sensory integration activities such as: massage, firm touch,
swinging, and bouncing.
Physical Therapy: Specializes in developing strength,
coordination and movement. Therapists work on improving gross
motor skills, such as running, reaching, and lifting. This therapy
is concerned with improving function of the body's larger muscles
through physical activities including exercise and massage.
Interpreting The Results
Medical tests look for a physical cause of a disability. Autism
and related disabilities are not commonly caused by a physical
problem. It is important to work with medical professionals that
look at your whole child which includes their medical condition as
well as their behavior, commuincation, and school environment.
For More Information Contact:
Center for Autism and Related Disabilities Sites:
Florida State University
625-B North Adams St.
Tallahassee, FL 32301
(800) 769-7926 or (850) 644-4367
University of South Florida
13301 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33612-3899
(800) 333-4530 or (813) 974-2532
Fax: (813) 974-6115
University of Florida at Gainesville
P. O. Box 100234
Gainesville, FL 32610-0234
(800) 754-5891 or (352) 846-2761
Fax: (352) 846-0941
University of Florida at Jacksonville
6271 St. Augustine Rd, Suite 1
Jacksonville, FL 32217
Phone: (904) 633-0760
Fax: (904) 633-0751
University of Central Florida
12001 Science Drive, Suite 145
Orlando, FL 32826
(888) 558-1908 or (407) 737-2566
Fax (407) 737-2571
University of Miami
Dept. of Psychology
5665 Ponce de Leon Boulevard
PO Box 248768
Coral Gables, FL 33124-0725
800/9-AUTISM or 305/284-6563
Florida Atlantic University
Dept. of ESE
777 Glades Road
Boca Raton, FL 33431
(888) 632-6395 or (561) 297-2023
Fax (561) 297-2063
Factsheet Center for Autism & Related Disabilities
The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities
The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD)
seeks to provide support and assistance with the goal
of optimizing the potential of people with autism, dual
sensory impairments, and related disabilities. Located at
six university sites throughout Florida, CARD develops
programs offering support and training for individuals,
families, professionals, and peers throughout Florida. This
fact sheet is made possible through the cooperative efforts of
Floridas CARD Centers.