What to Expect from an Autism Center Evaluation

Autism Center I would gladly donate every penny of the gas money I’ve spent driving my son from one diagnostic center to another if I could  find a single, one-stop shop for autism screening!  My dream is to have all  of the tests and questionnaires completed in a single trip – preferably riding up an escalator or a moving sidewalk.  Can you imagine it? I could hold my son’s hand while we shared  ice cream cones or s’mores (it’s a dream, remember?).  As we  passed each diagnostic station– neurology, speech/language, sleep, nutrition, gastroenterology, ENT, fine motor, gross motor, etc –different specialists would take x-rays by digital camera and saliva samples by offering a cherry lollipop.  We’d then smile and move serenely from one specialist to the next, until we came to the end of the ride, where a cheerful uber-doctor would tell us in plain language what specifically we needed to do to help our child realize his potential.

The dream isn’t far off.

Thanks to government grants, comprehensive development centers with specialties in autism spectrum disorders are springing up around the country.  And, after three months on a waiting list, we were ready to give our local autism center, located at our town’s most-respected children’s hospital,  a try.  We were particularly looking for an updated medical perspective.  Here’s a description of  our experience:

– Before the initial visit, we filled out several questionnaires describing our son’s medical history. I also made copies of his background – his medical and educational diagnoses, his current IEP and his IQ scores (there were three different ones, and they varied widely, depending on the type of test).

– On the first day, my son received two separate evaluations – one from an occupational therapist and the other from a speech pathologist. These evaluations went into much more detail than what we had received from our special school district, which had given my son an educational diagnosis of autism. While my son was being evaluated, I met with a psychologist to answer her questions about my son’s academic performance, behavior, social skills, sleep, diet and any of our other concerns. Each evaluation was 1-2 hours long. After my chat with the psychologist, I met with the OT and speech pathologist. Although I am waiting for the written version (this was only last week), I acquired a good sense of where my son’s language difficulties were occurring, and where his sensory integration was breaking down.

– A few days later, my son went back for an academics and psychological evaluation. The psychologist administered another IQ test — and because I had shown her the wide variability in his prior scores, she was able to choose the right test that would allow him to best show his abilities. I was thrilled at the score. She also confirmed our suspicion that our son had ADHD in addition to his language delays, and recommended an assistive technology screening and private language tutoring.

– In August, we will meet again with the psychologist AND a developmental pediatrician. The developmental pediatrician may recommend a neurological evaluation and  additional tests to rule out other things like seizure disorders. If no other tests are needed, we’ll probably receive a diagnosis based upon all of the other tests we’ve completed so far. My son was originally diagnosed with PDD-NOS, and it is probably still the ‘best fit’ for my little guy, but we’ll see if it changes. We’ll also discuss medication – my husband and I aren’t fans, but we’d like to know more about the advantages and side effects and to see medication might help in the short term. At that meeting, placement may also be discussed to see if my son might be better served in a private school, but (whew!) indications so far suggest that he may be able to stay where he is, with his para and other supports.

I found it refreshing to have all these specialists in one place. My son’s evaluations are always emotional for me, but I found that everyone was extremely kind, extremely respectful and highly attentive to my concerns and to  my son’s feelings. Whatever the diagnosis, the autism center team also volunteered to testify on our behalf with the school district if needed. It’s nice to have an advocate in our court.

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L. Mae Wilkinson
Quiet advocate, volunteer parent mentor. Semi-retired corporate marketing and management consultant.
L. Mae Wilkinson


Quiet advocate, volunteer parent mentor. Semi-retired corporate marketing and management consultant.

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