What is a diagnostic evaluation for autism?

Our team assesses children to determine if they have autism spectrum disorder or if another condition is causing problems with communication and learning. If we diagnose your child with autism, we work with you on a treatment plan for their unique medical, behavioral and educational needs.

Our staff will help connect you with treatment and support services at Seattle Children’s and in the community. We assess children 15 months to 21 years old.

Read how a team effort helped Brendan find his voice.

How will a diagnostic evaluation help my child?

  • Most families start with an intake visit at the Autism Center. The intake interviews help us understand:

    • Problems your child is having at home and at school
    • Services they are receiving
    • Their medical and developmental history

    Most older children then come back on another day to finish the assessment. Most younger children have all their appointments on a single day.

  • Providers from different specialties will check your child. Most children see at least 2 of these types of providers:

    • Psychologist
    • Speech and language pathologist
    • Neurodevelopmental pediatric nurse practitioner or doctor

    Using 2 or 3 providers with different expertise reduces the number of visits and gives families a diagnosis sooner. Our research shows that this team approach to diagnosis makes it more likely that patients and their families will take part in follow-up care.

    Watch Dr. Jennifer Gerdts describe the benefits of interdisciplinary team evaluation. (Video 6:36)

  • The earlier your child is diagnosed, the sooner they can start services for their specific needs. Early treatment improves outcomes. Follow-up visits help us provide family support.

    We will give you a full report with our findings and recommendations. The report helps shape your child’s path to progress. It can guide providers, school staff and others in your community.

Scheduling a Diagnostic Evaluation 

  • Ask your child’s primary care provider to refer your child to the Autism Center for a diagnostic evaluation. Providers, see how to refer a patient.
  • When we get the referral, we place you on our waiting list. When a space opens, we contact you to set up a visit. The wait can be long. You can ask to be put on a list to get notified if someone cancels their appointment.
  • Learn about autism resources such as useful links, videos and recommended reading.

What to Expect

  • Most families with school-age children have an intake visit on one day and finish the assessment on a different day.
  • Younger children may have all intake and diagnostic visits on a single day.
  • An intake visit takes 1 hour to 90 minutes. Most often, the rest of the assessment takes half a day.
  • Rarely, we need more testing or information to finish the assessment
    • See what to expect at the Autism Center so you know how to prepare for your intake visit and what to bring.
    • Fill out any forms the scheduling team sends you. Fax to 206-987-8081 or bring to your appointment.
    • Ask your child’s teacher to fill out the teacher Interview form (PDF) and fax it to 206-987-8081. 
    • Reflect back on your child’s growth and development since they were born. Try to remember milestones like when they talked and how they played with other children. Write down things about your child that have concerned you over time as they have grown.
    • Gather your child’s school records and bring them with you. Please include your child’s individualized education program (IEP) and IEP evaluation summary.
    • Gather any other evaluations or assessments your child has had and bring them with you.
    • If you would like to learn about autism, these resources can help:
    • You and your child will have a series of appointments with 2 or 3 different providers.
    • Most often the providers include a psychologist, neurodevelopmental nurse practitioner or speech and language pathologist.
    • In some of the visits, we gather information about your child by asking you questions and having you fill out a questionnaire about:
      • Your child’s and family’s challenges
      • Your child’s health history
      • Your child’s developmental and educational history
      • Any past treatments or services
      • Current therapy or services
    • In other visits, we focus on your child. A provider will interact with your child while they play and do tasks. The provider will be watching for signs of autism and check:
      • How your child communicates using language, facial expressions, gestures and eye contact
      • How they interact with others, such as taking turns and having conversations
      • If your child shows rigid patterns, repeated behaviors or intense interests
      • If your child is very sensitive to touch, smell, sound or sights
    • After meeting with you and your child, the providers discuss your child in depth, review records about your child and determine if your child has autism.
    • Almost always, we diagnose your child on the day of your visit. Rarely, we need more information like school records or extra testing.
  • We will send you a full report that explains the reasons for our diagnosis and recommendations. If we diagnose your child with autism, these are the next steps:

    • You can attend our First Steps classes. This is a small group of parents and caregivers of kids who are newly diagnosed with autism. You can attend in person or by videoconference. The classes explain what autism is, the types of services available and strategies that can help. Classes are 2 hours each over 3 weeks.
    • We recommend therapy, treatment and support (such as classes, readings and websites) specific to your child’s needs.
    • We may recommend that your child see providers at Seattle Children’s or somewhere else, like at school or in your local community.
    • At follow-up visits, we check how your child and family are doing. If needed, we revise your child’s treatment plan. We answer any questions and support you in getting services at school and in your community. Follow-up visits happen once a year or more often if needed.

Who is on my child’s team?

Many children see a psychologist, speech and language pathologist and neurodevelopmental pediatric nurse practitioner. Less often, children see:

  • Neurodevelopmental pediatricians
  • Neurologists
  • Psychiatric nurse practitioners
  • Child psychiatrists

See the full Autism Center team.

Contact Us

If you would like us to assess your child, ask your primary care provider to refer you. Learn more about how to get services at the Autism Center.

Providers, see how to refer a patient.

Paying for Care

  • It’s always best to call your insurance plan to check your benefits. Read about insurance and mental health coverage at Seattle Children’s.
  • Learn more about paying for care at Seattle Children’s, such as billing and financial assistance.