Autism Spectrum Testing: Things You Should Know As A Caregiver

Here’s everything you need to know:

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder typically detected in young children, and is a lifelong condition. ‘Spectrum’ refers to low-functioning autism, high-functioning autism (commonly known as Asperger syndrome) and everything in between.

ASD has unique characteristics but can be challenging to detect as symptoms differ from person to person. For example – in the past, ASD has often been misdiagnosed as attention-deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD). However, ongoing research and development of more effective diagnosis tools in recent years has led to more accurate diagnosis.

Recommended: Autism Assessment Available At New Vision Psychology

How to Know If Your Child Should Get Tested for Autism

As with other mental health conditions, there are many difficulties when it comes to diagnosing autism spectrum disorder. Unfortunately there is no easy ‘autism test’, with genetic testing and standard blood tests unable to provide answers. Rather, diagnosis involves prolonged evaluation and a series of tests. So – while it is possible for children to be diagnosed as young as age 2, it is more common for them to be diagnosed after age 4.

As a parent, your job is to be aware of the early signs listed below and seek further help from a health professional if necessary. Early intervention is essential to provide your child with optimal support.

Diagnosis Starts with ‘Early Signs’

Although diagnosing autism spectrum disorder takes time, symptoms will often be apparent in early childhood.

If you suspect that your child has ASD, you are likely already aware of some of the following early signs:

  • Lack of interest in interacting with others (such as other children, caregivers and family members)
  • Limited eye contact
  • Restricted verbal communication (e.g. limited vocabulary)
  • Obsessive behaviour (e.g. overwhelming attachment to a specific object, activity or topic)
  • Difficulty adjusting to a change in daily routine
  • Hyperactivity

How is Autism diagnosed?

An autism diagnosis requires a team of professionals, including a child psychiatrist, speech pathologist and a psychologist. The team of professionals will spend time speaking with the parent and observing the child for ASD characteristics.

It is recommended by the National Guideline for the Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders to conduct 2 standard assessments:

  • Comprehensive needs assessment
  • Diagnostic evaluation

Comprehensive Needs Assessment 

A comprehensive needs assessment includes:

  • Assessment of functioning
  • Medical evaluation

Assessment of functioning

This assessment evaluates your child’s abilities and strengths in daily activities, communication and thinking. It also assesses your child’s family history, medical history, health and support needs. It can be done by a medical practitioner, like a pediatrician or general practitioner, or an allied health professional, like an occupational therapist or psychologist.

Medical evaluation

This assessment is performed by a GP, psychiatrist or pediatrician through a physical examination. They might conduct other tests like a hearing test, to determine whether there is a medical reason that could explain your child’s behaviour.

Diagnostic evaluation 

If the comprehensive needs assessment suggests that your child has autism, the National guideline proposes a diagnostic evaluation to determine whether autism is an appropriate explanation for your child’s behaviour.

A diagnostic evaluation involves:

  • Assessing your child’s strengths and challenges in learning, thinking and communicating
  • Asking you questions
  • Reviewing information from the comprehensive needs assessment

You and your child may require multiple consultations with the team of professionals.

Developmental Monitoring: You Know Your Child Best!

ASD is a developmental disorder and as such, developmental monitoring is a crucial next step in diagnosis.

It involves observing your child over time to ensure they meet typical milestones for their age. Comparing your child’s development to that of their peers is a common way to do this. However, using developmental checklists is also highly recommended. Developmental checklists are based on a vast amount of autism research and can typically be found on government health websites. Since these have been written specifically for each age group, they provide comprehensive information about when your child should be reaching developmental milestones.

Developmental Screening: Acting Early Matters

If you notice signs of ANY developmental delays, it’s time to ask your doctor about developmental screening for autism spectrum disorder.

Screening uses tools to identify any delays in normal childhood development. It involves a test or questionnaire about your child’s development.

The test can be administered by clinicians, such as those at our practices, or other professionals (e.g. schools may have professionals). Children can also be screened during their regular childhood health checks at your request.

Developmental screening is essential (even if thorough developmental monitoring has been done) because it offers formal, unbiased results which are needed to move onto a more comprehensive evaluation.

Official Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Screening tests are not able to give a definitive diagnosis, but will indicate if further evaluation is required.

This is where a specialist can help. Trained specialists are able to perform a formal developmental evaluation which takes a closer look at any areas of concern identified during screening.

Formal developmental evaluations may involve observation of your child, a structured test given to your child and a questionnaire and interview provided by you – the caregiver.

Child psychologists at our practices are equipped with three complementary tools for diagnosis:

  • ABAS-3: This is a questionnaire covering three domains – conceptual, practical and social. It takes around 15-20 minutes for the caregiver to fill out. From there, a score is established to assist the clinician with diagnosis.
  • ADOS-2: This is a structured test administered to the child (the caregiver may also assist if necessary). It is play-based so that the psychologist can observe the child in a natural environment. It typically takes 45 minutes to an hour, during which time the clinician engages in a scoring process to summarise the observation.
  • ADI-R: This is a structured interview conducted with the caregiver, covering three domains – language/communication, reciprocal social interactions and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behaviours and interests. It takes 1.5 – 2.5 hours including scoring.

Following results, a formal diagnosis can be made by the specialist. Early intervention services and/or further treatment will then be discussed to best address your child’s needs.

How Much Does An Autism Diagnosis Cost?

An initial consultation with a registered psychologist at New Vision Psychology incurs a $230 fee. We require a prepayment of $230 to secure the first initial session. You may choose to not proceed with the full assessment after the initial consultation.

A complete assessment costs $2,300 fee.

Should you wish to proceed with a complete assessment, the $230 fee will be deducted from the $2,300.

In some cases, you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate. You will require a referral from a psychiatrist or a paediatrician and your child will need to be under 13 years of age. If you are eligible, you will be able to claim for 3 hours of service at $88.25 per hour.

What Is Included In The Initial Consultation?

This initial session can be conducted via telehealth or face to face and is a one-hour session with a psychologist.

During the initial consultation, an assessment will be conducted with the primary caregivers or the client so that we may collect background information such as mental health history, past diagnoses or read any relevant reports from other health professionals.

What Does A Complete Autism Assessment Involve?

A complete ASD assessment at New Vision Psychology involves:

  • An initial consultation (1-hour).
  • A standard clinical interview (ADI-R) with the client’s parents/caregivers. This usually takes two-hours and can be performed face-to-face or via telehealth.
  • A psychologist carrying out the ADOS-2 (1-hour). This can only be done in-person at our Sydney CBD location.

This is then followed by our psychologist scoring, interpreting and writing the report. All up, the assessment takes 10+ hours.

FYI, the first three sessions must be conducted on separate days. Consecutive days are fine, as long as the initial consultation, ADI-R and ADOS-2 are carried out on different days.

Do Australian Private Health Insurance Providers Such As Hcf, Bupa, Medibank, And NIB Cover The Cost Of Autism Spectrum Testing?

If you have private health insurance, you may be eligible for a rebate depending on your level of cover. Please contact your provider for more information:

  • HCF: 13 13 34 or visit a branch near you
  • BUPA: 134 135 | 8am – 8pm Monday-Friday
  • Medibank: 132 331 | 8am – 8pm Monday – Friday, 10am – 2pm Saturday
  • NIB: 13 16 42 | 8am – 8.30pm Monday – Friday, 8am – 1pm Saturday

Can autism diagnosis be performed remotely?

Autism diagnosis can be carried out via telehealth. If you live outside of New South Wales and require a diagnosis remotely, this can also be done (please call us on 1300 001 778 to enquire about the process).

Need An Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessment?

New Vision Psychology can help.