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Screening Your Child for Autism and Other Disorders

Your child’s healthy development begins early in life with proper wellness screenings. The state of Tennessee encourages all parents and caregivers to take the first step in identifying developmental issues by screening your child for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), such as autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and Asperger's syndrome.

In the U.S., 13 percent of children ages 3 to 17 have a developmental or behavioral disability such as autism. Well-child visits allow your doctor and nurses to have regular contact with your child to monitor his or her health and development through developmental screening. A developmental screening is a short test to tell if your child is learning basic skills when he or she should, or if there are delays. Early detection and intervention can improve long-term child development.

What are ASDs?

Children diagnosed with ASDs may communicate, interact, behave and learn in ways that are different from most other people. They may also face challenges with social, emotional and communication skills. Signs of ASDs begin during childhood and last throughout adulthood.

Signs of ASDs

Your child may have an ASD if he or she:

  • Does not point at objects to show interest
  • Has trouble relating to others
  • Avoids eye contact and wants to be alone
  • Has trouble understanding other people’s feelings
  • Prefers not to be held or cuddled
  • Appears to be unaware when people talk to them, but responds to other sounds
  • Repeats words or phrases in place of normal language
  • Has trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
  • Repeats actions over and over again
  • Has trouble adapting when a routine changes
  • Has unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound

Track your child’s developmental milestones

From birth to age 5, your child should reach milestones in how he or she plays, learns, speaks, acts and moves. It is important to track your child’s development and act early if you have a concern. By registering for the free My Profile tool on kidcentraltn.com, parents and caregivers can easily track milestones that are unique to your child’s age.

Sign up for My Profile here.

Learn about the Tennessee Early Childhood Education Early Learning Developmental Standards here.

Screening and diagnosis

Since there is no medical test, such as a blood test, to diagnose the ASDs, doctors look at the child’s behavior and development to identify physical, mental or developmental problems and risks as early as possible and to help the child get the necessary treatment.

The doctor might ask you some questions or talk and play with your child during an examination to see how he or she plays, learns, speaks, behaves, and moves. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a problem.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child doctor visits at: 9 months; 18 months and 24 or 30 months.

If your child’s doctor does not routinely check your child with this type of developmental screening test, you can ask that it be done.

What can I do if I think my child has an ASD?

  • Talk with your child’s doctor or nurse.
  • Ask for a referral to see a developmental pediatrician or other specialist.
  • Contact your local early intervention agency (for children under 3) or local public school (for children 3 and older), even if your child does not go to that school.
  • Contact the Center for Parent Information and Resources to speak to someone in your area.

Support and resources

Tennessee's Early Intervention System (TEIS), a voluntary educational program for families with children, through age 2, with disabilities or developmental delays, may be able to help your family if your child is experiencing developmental delays. Learn more here.

If your child has autism, special education is available to them at ages 3 to 5 years old. Learn more here.

Every child under age 21 who is eligible for TennCare (through Medicaid or through the uninsured or uninsurable guidelines) is eligible for TENNderCARE services, such as wellness checkups.

More helpful links

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers helpful information for families about ASDs.

Learn more about screenings and diagnoses from the CDC.

Children and adolescents should receive regular screenings even if there is no apparent health problem. There are different screenings your child should receive at various stages of development—from birth to 12 months old to beyond 12 months.

For a listing of developmental milestones, parent resources and what to do if you have concerns, click here.