Sunday, April 1, 2012

2 Autism Screening Tools That Every Parent Should Know About!

In 2007 the Center for Disease Control's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM) found that 1 in 150 8 year olds in different parts of the country have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Years ago autism was believed to occur in 4 to 5 per 10,000. This means that the prevalence of autism has increased to epidemic proportions in the last several years. This is the reason why every parent needs to be educated about autism screening tools, in case their child is showing signs of autism. This article will discuss 2 autism screening tools that I find are most effective in diagnosing autism.

Autism is a complex developmental disability that usually appears during the first three years of a child's life. It is defined by a unique set of behaviors and is considered a "spectrum disorder." What this means is that a child can have different symptoms that go across a spectrum.

Autism is often diagnosed by physicians, health care workers, or special education personnel. Two effective screening tools to diagnose autism are the CHAT which stands for the Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, and the CARS which stands for the Childhood Autism Rating Scale. Both will be discussed now, as well as who can use these tools to diagnose autism.

1. CHAT Checklist for Autism in Toddlers is a short questionnaire which is filled out by the parents and a primary health care worker (usually the child's Doctor). The CHAT is recommended to be given to all children at their 18 month check up. The Chat consists of two sections: the first nine items are questions answered by the parents and the last five items are observations made by the primary health care worker.

These items look at behaviors which if absent at 18 months, put a child at risk for a social-communication disorder. These behaviors are: a. joint attention, including pointing to show and looking to where a parent is pointing, and b. pretend play. The items are then scored, and a determination of pass or fail is given. Children who fail are rescreened in one month, and if they fail again should be referred to a specialty Dr. or Clinic for further testing.

2. CARS Childhood Autism Rating Scale is a 15 item behavior Rating Scale that helps to identify children with Autism and to distinguish them from other children with a disability. Professionals such as physicians, special educators (after age 3), school psychologists, speech pathologists and audiologists who have had only minimal exposure to Autism, can easily be trained to use the CARS. This is one of the reasons that I like it so much, it does not take lengthy training before use.

Each of the 15 items covers a particular characteristic, ability, or behavior. The person performing the CARS will ask the parents questions. based on the 15 items. The parents answers will be used to give the child a score.

Children who score above a given point are categorized as having autism.

The CARS also gives a determination if the child has mild, moderate, or severe autism, based on the child's score on the CARS. This is a wonderful bonus for parents because it helps them understand what their child's needs are related to having autism.

By understanding what effective autism screening tools are available, parents will be able to ask their Doctor to use one of the screening tools, if they are concerned. If your child fails either of these tests, you should take them to a specialty clinic or physician, who is experienced in treating children with autism. They should order a complete battery of tests to determine what your child's strengths and weaknesses are, as well as what special education services they need. Do not take these screening tools in lieu of further testing, but it will help you get started. Good Luck!

JoAnn Collins is a mother of two adults with disabilities and has been an education advocate for over 15 years. She has helped hundreds of parents navigate the special education system. She is also the author of the book: Disability Deception; Lies Disability Educators Tell and How Parents Can Beat Them at Their Own Game. For more information go to:

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