Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Assessment
What is an autism assessment?
Autism is considered a neurodevelopmental condition which means that onset typically begins in the early developmental period and has a wide-reaching impact on an individual’s functioning. As with other neurodiversities, it leads to high variability between individuals, with challenges varying greatly from person to person, across an individual’s lifespan, and across different environments. Not every person with autism encounters challenges that require intervention. However, problems arise when there is a disconnection or a lack of match between the specific environment and the autistic individual’s needs. (e.g., for some people, challenges may be more severe and cause greater life interference at school than at home).
The two main areas of concern for people with ASD are social communication and restricted, repetitive behaviours. In terms of social communication, people with autism may experience persistent challenges in communication and social interaction, including difficulties with social-emotional reciprocity (e.g., difficulties engaging in back-and-forth conversation; difficulty initiating and responding to social interactions), nonverbal communication (e.g., reduced or poorly modulated eye contact; difficulties interpreting body language, gestures, and/or facial expressions), and difficulties developing and maintaining relationships (e.g., not knowing how to “act” in various social situations; difficulty understanding and explaining concepts such as friendship).
Challenges with restricted, repetitive behaviours refer to traits such as engaging in repetitive motor movements (e.g., hand flapping; repeating phrases or words; lining up toys), rituals and rigid routines (e.g., extreme distress associated with change; difficulties with transitions; wanting to eat the same foods or wear the same clothes every day), intense interests (e.g., being preoccupied by very specific objects or topics; being unable to “move past” their interests in conversation; having interests that seem inconsistent with developmental age), and sensory seeking and/or avoidance (e.g., being very interested in certain sensory experiences; having intense negative reactions to certain sensory experiences; seeking and feeling calmed by certain sensory input such as deep pressure or spinning).
Abilities in other areas, such as language, learning, and cognition, are also frequently impacted. Again, there is wide variability between individuals. Some individuals with autism may be gifted compared to their peers, while others may have diagnosable challenges in these areas (e.g., learning disorder, intellectual disability). However, uneven development is common (meaning people may have great strengths in some areas and difficulties in other areas). Thorough assessment via psychoeducational autism assessment allows clinicians to identify individual strengths and develop recommendations that use the individual’s unique strengths to help them manage challenges in other areas of functioning. Accurate diagnosis and assessment of strengths can assist others in understanding better and valuing their family member, friend, colleague, student or peer with autism, and for the person with autism to better understand and accept themselves, identifying the ways their neurodiversity can be a gift.
Due to increased public awareness, refined research, and a better understanding of how autism presents across age and gender spectrums, autism is now believed to be a relatively common condition (i.e., 1 in 50, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada). Autism assessment is recommended when individuals present with challenges consistent with autism, and these challenges cause significant challenges in daily functioning.
Here is how we can help:
We offer different testing options specific to autism, depending on the age of the individual and areas of challenge:
School-age Assessment – Two testing routes are available:
(1) Diagnostic Assessment (appropriate for students who have recently undergone psychoeducational assessment) and
(2) Diagnostic/Psychoeducational Assessment.
These assessments consist of one-on-one testing with the student, parent interviews, and consultation with educators and other professionals (as appropriate). The Diagnostic/Psychoeducational option assessment also involves a comprehensive psychoeducational assessment better to understand the student’s unique learning and behavioural profile.
Adult Assessment – Adult ASD assessments involve separate interviews with the client and spouse, parent, or sibling. Both the client and someone who knows them well will be asked to complete various questionnaires.
Any previous psychological reports will also be reviewed. The information will be summarized in a report with recommendations specific to the client’s goals. Once strengths and needs are identified (including relevant diagnoses), we work to inform, educate, and advocate for appropriate support and interventions for the individual and their family.
For more information and support, please visit:
Autism Nova Scotia>>
Dr. Megan Neff is a psychologist with Autism and ADHD. Click here to read her blog>>.