When it comes to diagnosing autism, professionals rely on various assessments to gain a comprehensive understanding of an individual's unique strengths and challenges. A common assessment tool used across the field at Cortica is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).  

A caregiver and child playing with building blocks.

What is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)? 

This standardized assessment has been designed to evaluate social communication, interaction, and repetitive behaviors that are often present in autism. It involves observing and interacting with a person to gather valuable insights into their behavior and communication patterns. 

The ADOS can play a helpful role in diagnosing autism. The ADOS provides a structured and standardized approach to help clinicians collect information about a person’s social and communication skills, which can aid in diagnosis.  

What to Expect During the ADOS Assessment 

During an ADOS assessment, a trained clinician, such as a therapist, physician, nurse practitioner, or psychologist, will engage the individual in a series of social interactions and activities that are carefully designed to simulate real-life situations and elicit behaviors relevant to autism diagnosis.  These activities may involve playing with toys, engaging in conversations, and following instructions. The clinician then carefully observes the person’s responses, non-verbal cues, use of language, and overall social engagement. 

The ADOS typically takes between 30 to 60 minutes to administer. The duration may vary depending on the individual's age, developmental level, and their ability to engage in the assessment tasks. It is important to remember that the length of the test is designed to allow the clinician sufficient time to observe and evaluate the individual's social communication and behaviors accurately.   

Parents' Role and Preparation 

As a caregiver, it’s important to prepare for the assessment by gathering any relevant medical records, developmental milestones, and reports that can provide valuable insights into your child's history. You can also prepare your child for the assessment by ensuring that they are well-rested and have had a meal beforehand in order to help them feel their best. It may also be helpful to explain beforehand, in age-appropriate language, that they will be spending time with a friendly professional who wants to learn more about how they communicate and play. 

During the ADOS, the professional conducting the assessment will let you know whether you should participate. You may be asked to provide additional information about your child's behavior, interests, and communication styles. Your input and observations can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of your child's strengths and challenges. 

It’s natural for parents to feel anxious or concerned about the assessment process. Keep in mind that the ADOS is designed to gather valuable information to help your child receive appropriate support and interventions. You can rely on the expertise of the professionals conducting the assessment and should feel free to ask any questions or express any concerns you may have. 

A professional conducting an assessment on a young child.

Scoring and Interpretation 

The clinician uses a scoring system to document and evaluate the child’s performance during the ADOS. This scoring allows for standardized comparisons and aids in determining the presence and severity of autism-related symptoms. The results are typically available within a few weeks after the assessment. 

Collaboration and Additional Assessments 

The ADOS is often not the sole assessment used in diagnosing autism, although it is important due to its standardized nature and ability to capture crucial information about social and communication skills. It is often conducted alongside other assessments, such as the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS). These complementary assessments provide a more comprehensive understanding of the child’s behavior, communication, and social interactions. 

Working in conjunction with other assessments, the ADOS helps professionals provide accurate diagnoses and develop effective intervention strategies for autistic children. Through continued research and the utilization of assessments like the ADOS, we can better support and empower children with autism on their journey toward a fulfilling life.