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How Is Autism Diagnosed?

It would be so much easier if autism spectrum disorer (ASD) could be diagnosed with a blood test or an x-ray, but it's not that simple.

A diagnosis of ASD is ultimately made based on your description of your child's development, plus careful observations of certain behaviors by your pediatrician, autism experts, medical tests and your child's history.

Early diagnosis requires a partnership between parents and pediatricians.

Within this partnership you, as the parent, should feel comfortable bringing up any concerns you have about your child's behavior or development—the way he or she plays, learns, speaks and acts. Likewise, your child's pediatrician's role in the partnership is to listen and act on your concerns.

During your child's visits, the pediatrician may ask specific questions or complete a questionnaire about your child's development. Pediatricians take these steps because they understand the value of early diagnosis and intervention and know where to refer you if concerns are identified. The importance of this partnership cannot be stressed enough.

Why ALL children are screened for autism:

If your child does have autism, an early diagnosis is better because then your child can start receiving the help he or she needs. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all children be screened for ASD at their 18- and 24-month well-child checkups.

Talk with your doctor if you feel your child needs to be screened (regardless of their age) and share your concerns—you know your child the best!

If your child recieves an autism diagnosis:

Learning your child has a lifelong developmental disability is difficult. Naturally, you as a parent, other caregivers, and extended family need to grieve about this. You will undoubtedly worry about what the future holds.

Keep in mind during these difficult times that most children with ASD will make significant progress in overall function. Some children with ASD can do exceptionally well and may even remain in a regular education classroom. Many will have meaningful relationships with family and peers and achieve a good level of independence as adults.

It is important to remember that while a diagnosis of autism may change what you thought your parenting experience would be, we now know that children with ASD can achieve so much more in life as long as they are given appropriate support and opportunities. (See "Words of Support for Parents of a Child with Autism.")

Health insurance, coding & billing questions for ASD

Because the DSM-5 criteria combine all previous subdiagnoses under one condition (ASD), there may be inconsistency between insurance billing databases and DSM-5 diagnoses.

Parents, see the Health Insurance section on for helpful articles and information you'll need on your journey.

Both ICD-9-CM and ICD-10-CM contain specific codes for subdiagnoses, including Asperger's Syndrome. Therefore, it is recommended that services provided for children with ASD are reported with codes such as ICD-9-CM code 299.00 or 299.01. On or after Oct. 1, 2014, report ICD-10-CM code F84.0.

Editor's note: Children with ASD may have other medical problems that may need further evaluation and treatment. These may include seizures, problems with sleep, gastrointestinal problems (feeding problems, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and behavioral health problems (such as anxiety, ADHD, irritability, and aggression).

More information

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American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2019)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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