Why every child needs autism screening — and how your pediatrician can help

Autism screening is an important reason to bring your child to the pediatrician every year for their annual well-child checkup, even when your child is not due for any immunizations.

Schedule a well-child visit today!

If your child is between the ages of 3 and 6 years old, they need to visit the pediatrician every year — even when they don’t need shots. Your pediatrician monitors their growth and development for early detection of any potential health issues. Book your appointment directly, by location or provider.

Autism screening is one of the many important reasons to bring your child to the pediatrician every year for their annual well-child checkup, even when your child is not due for any immunizations. The way your child speaks, plays, learns and acts could help a pediatrician determine any potential signs of autism.

Autism is a common diagnosis for toddlers and preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 6 years old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Did you know your child’s pediatrician begins screening for autism as young as 18 months old?

Every child is screened for autism
While pediatricians will conduct formal autism screening for all pediatric patients at the 18-month and 24-month well-child visits, they are on the lookout for signs as early as the first well-child check, when a child is a newborn. This routine developmental monitoring continues every time your child is in the office for a visit. Not all children who receive an autism diagnosis will be diagnosed as a baby. In fact, an autism diagnosis often can happen later, as the child grows older and other symptoms — affecting behavior, communication and social interactions — may appear.

“Children change and grow so rapidly when they’re young, and pediatricians need to monitor their development — that’s why we urge caregivers to stay current with the recommended schedule of well-child visits,” said Matthew D. Kinney, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “We rely on parents to provide us with their own observations and family medical history to help us identify children at risk for autism.”

Is an autism screening the equivalent of a diagnosis?
Autism screening is not the same thing as an autism diagnosis, but it is a necessary tool that can help identify children who may have ASD and alert families when interventions may be necessary. Your child’s pediatrician can use a variety of autism screening tools, but the most common one is called the M-CHAT-R/F, a checklist-style questionnaire that involves parents answering 20 questions about their child’s behavior.

The earlier a child can be screened for autism or other developmental disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the better the outcomes can be for their learning and social environments. Autism spectrum disorder can overlap with other symptoms and diagnoses such as learning disorders, anxiety, ADHD or intellectual disabilities. Since accurate diagnosis is needed for your child’s ability to thrive, we recommend regular visits to the pediatrician for well-child checks and any needed follow-ups.