AUTISM EVALUATION (Psychological Evaluation) Age 3+ years old
Approximately 1 in 85 children demonstrate symptoms of an Autism- Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including milder symptoms that may not meet full criterion for Autistic Disorder. The term “autism spectrum” is used because children can show a wide variety of symptoms, and the severity of these symptoms is also quite variable. Early symptoms of ASD can include: no babbling or pointing by 12 months; no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by 24 months; no response to her/his name being called; poor eye contact; and reduced smiling or social responsiveness. However, language delays or deficits can also occur in non-ASD disorders (e.g., developmental language disorders). Later symptoms of ASD can include: impaired ability to make friends; impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation; absence of imaginative and social play; repetitive use of language (e.g., repeating the same phrases over and over); restricted interests or having intense interests in limited domains (e.g., being obsessed with train schedules or other facts); preoccupation with certain objects; and inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals (e.g., demanding that events occur at specific times or in a certain way); and sensory sensitivities (e.g., being highly sensitive to certain noises, smells, and/or textures). Although not required for a diagnosis, other characteristics often associated with ASD diagnoses include poor fine motor coordination.
We conduct both psychological and neuropsychological evaluations to assess for the presence of an autism-spectrum diagnosis in children, adolescence, and adults. Psychological evaluations involve parent/guardian interview, completion of questionnaires by the parent/guardian (and teachers or others who work with the child, if applicable), and both observations of (and interaction with) the child using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd Edition (ADOS-2).
Neuropsychological testing (described elsewhere in this website) can also be conducted to assess cognitive abilities such as facial processing (e.g., identifying emotions on faces, memory of faces), "theory of mind" abilities (i.e., the ability to understanding others' perceptions and beliefs), language skills, problem-solving, and various other domains.
Parents/guardians are provided with extensive feedback about the findings and recommendations following the evaluation. School personnel often benefit from receiving both psychological and neuropsychological test results to develop accommodations and special services to help children with ASD. The information can also be used in determining whether a child could be eligible for services through the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD; www.azdes.gov/developmental_disabilities). For DDD evaluations, we provide information regarding diagnostic impressions from the DSM-IV-TR (the previous diagnostic manual), which requires designations such as Autistic Disorder and Asperger's Disorder (which are no longer diagnoses in the revised DSM-5).
Children seen for neuopsychological, psychoeducational, or psychological evaluations can have a qEEG brain mapping assessment added to the evaluation. Brain mapping data can help explain the underlying factors contributing to a children's cognitive, academic, and emotional/behavioral functioning. For instance, children with autism-spectrum disorders frequently exhibit low levels of Alpha waves; high levels of High Beta waves; and significant hypercoherance (excessive communication) between various regions of the brain.
See Dr. Baker's commentary in the article "Autism 101" in Arizona Parenting Magazine (March 2012) on page 14. Autism 101 (page 14)