Your Child's Initial Autism Evaluation

Scheduling an autism evaluation

When you call to schedule an evaluation with the Autism Integrated Care program, the intake coordinator will take down initial information about your child over the phone. Afterward, you'll receive a packet including a parent questionnaire, parent behavioral checklist, and a teacher behavioral checklist. These forms must be completed and mailed back to our office to move forward in the wait process. 

There may be a significant waiting period between your intake phone call and your evaluation appointment. This delay has to do with a national shortage of experts in autism and related developmental disorders. The exact length of time you’ll wait depends on the type of evaluation your child needs, but it can range from several weeks to several months.

The intake coordinator will let you know the approximate timeframe in which your child may be evaluated. She will also discuss important things to do while you are waiting for an evaluation to help address your child’s immediate needs.

For children younger than 3: Children younger than 3 are given appointment priority. As soon as we receive and review the packet you completed, we will send you a letter with the approximate month your appointment can be scheduled, then contact you to schedule the appointment.

For children older than 3: We will mail you a packet two months after your intake phone call. This will ensure that we have the most up-to-date information for the evaluation. As soon as we receive and review your completed packet, we will send you a letter with the approximate month your appointment can be scheduled, then contact you to schedule your child’s appointment.

We schedule appointments about two to three months in advance. We will contact you to offer a specific appointment time about two months prior to the appointment. You are welcome to contact us with any questions, or to make sure we received your packet and have your up-to-date contact information.

Waiting for an autism evaluation

Here are some important things to do while waiting for your child's autism evaluation:

  • Talk with your pediatrician about whether a hearing test, vision screen or check of lead levels should be done. These are important things to check when a child is showing developmental concerns.
  • Follow up on recommendations made by the intake coordinator. Our intake coordinator may tell you about community resources, programs or providers that can help address specific areas of need, regardless of your child’s ultimate diagnosis. Get started on these while you pursue a more thorough clinical evaluation.
  • Contact your local Early Intervention agency or school district to have your child evaluated for free school services. While these resources may not provide a diagnosis, you will receive an assessment of your child’s individual strengths and areas of need. If your child is eligible, the local education agency or school district can begin providing intervention while you are waiting for your clinical evaluation. This can help your child now, and will allow us to assess your child’s response to intervention during our evaluation.
  • Consider enrolling in an autism research study. CHOP's Center for Autism Research is internationally recognized as a leading research center for autism spectrum disorder. Many of our active projects involve an assessment of your child’s cognitive abilities and daily functioning, and an in-depth examination of characteristics related to autism spectrum disorder. Oral and written feedback are provided to research participants. The assessment is tailored to the research study, but may help get you started while you pursue a clinical evaluation.

What to expect during your child's autism evaluation

Your child will be evaluated by either a developmental pediatrician, a psychologist or with a team of professionals. Evaluations can range from one-and-a-half hours to four hours or longer, and may be done in one day or over a few visits. This depends on the type of evaluation and the number of providers your child will be seeing.

Developmental pediatrician or psychologist evaluation

Our developmental pediatricians and psychologists have extensive expertise with ASD and other medical and behavioral conditions.

Developmental pediatricians are medical doctors who have training in other genetic and medical conditions that might be associated with ASD, so they will do a physical exam to rule out other medical causes of your child’s difficulties.

Psychologists have extensive training in behavioral disorders, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and mood and anxiety disorders, and can help differentiate ASD from other conditions.

The first provider you work with, whether a developmental pediatrician or a psychologist, will help you determine all the specialty consults and referrals your child may need.

Your child’s autism evaluation with a developmental pediatrician or a psychologist may include:

  • A medical, educational and social history
  • A direct observation by our team and interaction with your child
  • A general behavioral assessment tool
  • An ASD-specific assessment tool

ASD-specific assessment tools

During your child's autism evaluation, we will use at least one of the following ASD-specific assessments tools:

  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition (CARS2)
  • Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)
  • Autism Spectrum Rating Scales (ASRSTM)
  • Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT)
  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – Second Edition (ADOS-2)

General behavioral assessment tools

We will also use one of the following behavioral assessment tools during your child's autism evaluation:

  • Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL)
  • Behavioral Assessment System for Children, Second Edition (BASC-2)

Team evaluation

You child may be scheduled for evaluation by a team of ASD experts. During a team evaluation your child is evaluated by several different professionals from different specialties at CHOP. The team may include a speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, developmental pediatrician, psychologist and/or social worker.

Team evaluations are especially helpful for families with young children and for families who may not be able to access these other services separately. They are also beneficial for clinically complex cases.

Team evaluations are scheduled in the morning and last two to four hours. They often require a longer wait before scheduling as compared to evaluations by an individual developmental pediatrician or psychologist. The specific components of the team evaluation depend on your child’s specific areas of concerns, as well as whether your child has had recent evaluations in these areas.

Your child’s team evaluation may include:

  • A medical, educational and social history
  • A direct observation by our team and interaction with your child
  • A general behavioral assessment tool (as described above)
  • An ASD-specific assessment tool (as described above)
  • An assessment of your child’s speech and language skills
  • An assessment of your child’s sensory-related difficulties, fine motor skills, and self-help skills
  • An interview with a social worker to help identify community referral needs

Autism evaluation results

After we have reviewed your child’s developmental history and test results, you will meet with a developmental pediatrician or a psychologist to review the results and ask any questions. This is a separate visit and is typically scheduled about a week after your child’s team evaluation. At this time, you may also meet with a speech-language pathologist and an occupational therapist if applicable.

If your child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, we will give you information to help you learn about ASD and ensure you are on the right path to helping your child reach his or her full potential. We have workshops for families who have just recently received an ASD diagnosis. Social workers from our team can also answer questions about community resources.

We will likely ask to see your child again in a few months to hear about how he or she is responding to intervention. During this time, we will answer any new questions that you have thought of since your child’s evaluation.