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Who Can Diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders?

November 1, 2023

Mary is wondering if her 6-year-old boy might have autism. He has trouble communicating and has repetitive behavior. Like many parents, a question at the forefront of her mind is: Who can diagnose autism?

Who Can Diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Diagnosing autism spectrum disorders is complicated; finding a reliable source can provide answers and support for the individual and their family members.

Resources have increased over recent years as more people are becoming educated about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), what it is, what it looks like, and what to look for. Although more people are learning more about autism, to diagnose autism truly, there are guidelines and education required for a true diagnosis.

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Early Intervention Counts

Unfortunately, there haven’t been tests created for autism, like blood tests or scans, that can diagnose autism. A developmental pediatrician can look at the child’s development and behavioral difficulties that they may be experiencing in school, at home, and anywhere else.

Children can be diagnosed with autism as young as eighteen months, but more are diagnosed older and even into adulthood. The earlier an autism diagnosis can occur, the more likely early intervention services can start, and any developmental problems or behavioral issues can be assessed.

Research has shown improvements and major outcomes the earlier a person receives intervention services. It is highly recommended that parents and caregivers seek help and ask their questions if they have any questions or concerns about their child’s behavior, any developmental delays, or autism symptoms they’ve noticed; the earlier the talk and get assessments started, the earlier an individual could potentially start receiving support.

Early Signs of Autism

Early detection and intervention are crucial for helping children with autism reach their full potential. Recognizing the early signs of autism is an essential step in this process. It’s important to note that every child is unique, and these signs are not definitive indicators of autism. However, they can serve as valuable red flags for parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals to consider when assessing a child’s development. Here are some of the most common signs of autism in children:

  • Social challenges: One of the earliest signs of autism is difficulty with social interaction. Infants and toddlers who later receive an autism diagnosis may not respond to their name, avoid eye contact, or have limited interest in engaging with others.
  • Communication delays: Language and communication delays are common early indicators of autism. A child might not babble or use gestures like pointing or waving as expected for their age. They may also struggle with expressive (speaking) and receptive (understanding) language skills.
  • Repetitive behaviors: Children with autism often exhibit repetitive behaviors and interests. This might include lining up toys, focusing intensely on a single topic, or engaging in repetitive movements like hand-flapping or rocking.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Sensory sensitivities are frequently seen in autistic children. They may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sensory stimuli, such as lights, sounds, textures, or tastes.
  • Difficulty with change: Children with autism may become upset when their daily routines are disrupted and have a strong need for sameness.
  • Lack of pretend play: Typically, developing children play pretend as they grow, imitating everyday activities or using toys to represent objects. Children with autism may have limited or absent pretend play skills.

Who Can Diagnose Autism? 

Many different types of medical doctors and professionals can help to provide an official diagnosis, and they include:

  • Developmental pediatricians
  • Psychologists
  • Neurologists
  • Psychiatrists

Generally speaking, psychologists diagnose ASD and are a big part of the process. Those psychologists, including child psychologists and other medical professionals, who diagnose autism need extensive experience and knowledge of the many symptoms and evaluations associated with autism.

When diagnosing ASD, psychologists will use the following information during the diagnostic process:

  • The patient’s history (including their family history of any mental disorders)
  • Check cognitive, language, and social skills
  • Interviewing the patient
  • Interviews and conversations with parents, family members, teachers, and other adults who interact with the child to better understand where the child is in their emotional, behavioral, and social skills
  • Interact and observe the behavior
  • Eliminate any possibilities of different diagnosis
Who Can Diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Others Who Can Help

Other professionals may notice the signs before you officially diagnose your child. Most of the time, teachers are the first people, apart from you, who may notice your child’s challenges in communication, social interaction, learning, and more. Their insight can prove to be highly valuable during the early stages of diagnosis and intervention.

Other than teachers, your general practitioner or an occupational therapist can recognize the early signs of autism, as well. Although they cannot give you an official diagnosis, they can refer you to a professional who can do some tests and give your child a proper one. Talking to them is a great first step in helping your child manage their autistic challenges.

Who Is Not Qualified To Diagnose Autism? 

There can be different medical doctors and mental health professionals that can properly diagnose autism, the main one being a psychologist; there are those who are unqualified. 

Only psychologists and psychiatrists, including child psychologists, child psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, and other mental health professionals, can diagnose autism properly. It is always recommended to go to high-quality sources that can provide support and services that the autistic child may need.

If there are ever any questions or concerns about a child’s behavior, development, or even therapies or services that the child is receiving, the parents can talk to their doctor. If their doctor cannot answer their questions, they can either tell them who they can call or refer them to someone who can help them.

And, remember – before you choose a therapist you can trust with your child’s diagnosis, it’s always a good idea to do some research first. Make sure they’re a certified healthcare provider before you embark on a journey of autism management with them.

What Does A Diagnosis Entail? 

Diagnosing ASD takes many different steps and aspects into account. It can be ongoing and includes input from parents, teachers, and generally other adults who interact with the person being diagnosed.

The 3 main parts of diagnosis include:

  1. Monitoring
  2. Screening
  3. Diagnosing

The monitoring includes watching the individual and noting their growing and developing different skills and abilities. If there is any atypical development, interactions, or behaviors, they should be noted and discussed.

The child’s doctor observes their development, interactions, and responses during their yearly checkup or Well Child visit. The family’s medical and mental health history is generally noted when filling out paperwork, and the doctor may discuss any concerning behavior or developmental milestones that may concern them.

The doctor may then decide that further developmental and behavioral screening is necessary. If the child’s doctor cannot do this, they will refer the family to a child psychologist or other medical professional.

The screening process is a little more in-depth and includes more detailed questionnaires and checklists for parents to fill out. These forms typically include developmental aspects like cognition, emotional, and social skills. They are typically conducted by a nurse, doctor, health care providers, pediatric neurologists, occupational therapists, or other school or mental health professionals.

The diagnostic process occurs after the previous steps and can be discussed with the child’s doctor. When a diagnosis has been completed, the individual will have a higher chance of receiving early or other intervention services and whether genetic testing and counseling can benefit the child and their treatment plan.

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Is It A Good Idea To Diagnose Yourself?

If an individual thinks they are autistic, or if a parent is sure that their child is autistic, it is recommended to talk to a doctor. The doctor can help the individual and family navigate the different parts of autism diagnosis and support that may help.

Often, only a medical or mental health professional diagnosis will be taken by insurance companies and therapies. Also, having the support of a doctor with extensive experience with autism, what to expect, and the best practices that benefit the individual can make the process easier and more comfortable. Although you know best what kind of struggles and challenges you or your child face daily, self-diagnosing autism isn’t always a good call. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your research to try and make sense of your struggles, but sharing your experiences with a certified professional is always the right thing to do.


Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex and multifaceted process involving various professionals’ expertise. It typically requires input from clinicians, psychologists, developmental specialists, and others. Accurate and early diagnosis is crucial for individuals with ASD to access appropriate support and intervention.


Q: Who can diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)?

A: Diagnosing autism usually involves a team of professionals, including pediatricians, child psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and developmental pediatricians. These experts work together to assess and diagnose ASD.

Q: Can a general practitioner diagnose ASD?

A: While a general practitioner can initiate the diagnostic process, they usually refer individuals suspected of having ASD to specialists with expertise in developmental disorders. Accurate diagnosis often requires the assessment of various aspects of a person’s behavior and development.

Q: Is a school psychologist qualified to diagnose ASD?

A: School psychologists can play a valuable role in identifying signs of ASD within an educational setting, but a formal diagnosis is typically made by healthcare professionals, such as clinical psychologists or developmental specialists, who have specific training in diagnosing developmental disorders.

Q: Can parents or caregivers diagnose ASD in their children?

A: Parents and caregivers are often the first to notice signs of autism in their children. While their observations are valuable, qualified professionals must make a formal diagnosis. Parental input and observations can aid the diagnostic process and provide crucial insights.

Q: Do adults with suspected autism need a different set of specialists for diagnosis?

A: The diagnostic process for adults with suspected ASD is similar to that for children, involving professionals with expertise in developmental and psychological assessments. However, the specific specialists involved may vary depending on the individual’s age and unique circumstances.

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