Studying Up on Back-to-School Tips Part IV

In my last post I talked about obtaining an “outside” diagnosis as opposed to only relying on the school’s screening.  Before I go on to talk about your child’s needs assessment, let’s look at the definitions of screening, diagnosis and needs assessment.

Screening – A developmental screening is a procedure designed to identify children for potential developmental delays. Screenings, however, tend to be brief and limited in their findings, allowing for delays in diagnosis. If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, be cautious of these quick screenings and trust your instincts that something isn’t quite right

Diagnosis – The act or process of identifying a disease or disorder.  Since autism is not a disease, there is no medical test to date, like a blood test, to diagnose ASDs.  Doctors have to take a more in depth look at the child’s behavior and development in order to make a diagnosis.

Needs Assessment – A needs assessment is a multiple step process. First, through additional testing and analysis of your input , clinicians will more thoroughly understand the behaviors that are particular to your child, and the daily challenges you both face. They then take those findings and determine the best way to meet those needs.


Because children with ASDs have varying profiles, needs assessments should provide a description of strengths and weaknesses specific to your child, including attention to language, cognitive and other skills. These factors are as important as the actual diagnosis of an ASD when setting appropriate goals and intervention plans in an effort to provide a successful school year.

A needs assessment for ASD should involve both a history and a description of your child’s current behavior provided by you as the caregiver, as well as direct observations of the behavior of your child by an experienced clinician.

The more prepared you are for your child’s needs assessment, the more you will get out of it. The following are some tips for getting the most out of your child’s need assessment.

  • If at all possible, bring your spouse, a relative, or a close friend to attend the assessment. Having someone else there will help make sure you don’t miss anything, and help empower you to ask the right questions.
  • Prepare a list of questions and concerns to ask the clinician both before the assessment and after.
  • Bring along a list of people who’ve already work with your child, including their phone numbers, and good times to reach them. Including all available information about them will help prevent the need to track information down later.
  • Bring copies of any previous evaluations and reports.
  • If your child is already enrolled in a school program, bring a list of the particulars of the classroom’s structure, staff, curriculum, and any concerns you’ve observed; i.e., your child needs more visuals, more notice to transitions, and a longer rest period.
  • If you feel that you have not had enough time to process the information you are getting, you should ask to come back in a week or two and review the results after you’ve had time to digest it. If you are going to an assessment clinic, ask the clinician to refer you to someone who does follow-up.

No matter how small you might think your concern is relative to the school program, bring it up at your child’s needs assessment. The value of an assessment is not in the evaluation process, but in what you are able to take back to your child’s school and/or community in terms of being better equipped to advocate for your child.


This is part four of the “Studying Up on Back-to-School Tips” series, read part one of the series here. Read part two of the series here. Read part three of the series here.

Please feel free to continue to send me your questions, and your own back to school tips to my Twitter account @alleviateautism or by commenting below.

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