A School Psychologist’s Behavior Checklist for Autism

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Autism Behavior Checklist for Parents: How to Identify and Support Your Child’s Needs

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that can impact communication, behavior, and social interaction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with autism.

As a parent, discovering that your child may have autism can feel overwhelming and navigating the journey while trying to provide the best support for your child may seem daunting.

If this resonates with you, you’re in the right place. My goal with this blog post is to provide insights into autism, its early signs, and strategies to meet your child’s unique needs. Later in the post, I’ll introduce the Autism Behavior Checklist (ABC), which can be a valuable resource in identifying potential concerns in your child’s behavior.

What exactly is an autism behavior checklist?

Think of an autism behavior checklist as a personal autism screening instrument or an informal, at-home measure to help you get a baseline of your child’s behaviors in comparison to common and specific behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorder. While it’s important to seek a professional for further evaluation and/or a formal autism diagnosis, you may want to know if what you’re seeing could be autism before you get to that point. This is where a checklist like this comes into play and I know that there are many out there and you may be shopping around. So before we get into the checklist, let’s talk about things that you should be looking for in an autism behavior checklist to ensure that it is a useful tool.

What makes an informal checklist different from a formal evaluation?

This checklist is not a diagnostic tool, but simply a way to observe, record and compare your child’s behaviors with typical developmental milestones. A formal evaluation conducted by healthcare professionals like pediatricians, psychologists or neurologists will provide a thorough autism assessment using standardized measures (like the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS), Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) as well as clinical observations; they can also provide a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (if applicable) .

The benefits of using an autism behavior checklist:

  • Provides an opportunity for early intervention
  • Helps track and monitor progress over time
  • Can identify potential red flags or concerns in your child’s behavior
  • Increases awareness and understanding of autism behaviors

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, this blog post is as much educational material as it is a checklist. The goal is to provide a deeper understanding of autism firstly, and and to help you determine if your child is exhibiting symptoms, secondly.

Why You Should Consider This Checklist

You may be thinking “There are all kinds of autism behavior checklists out there. Why should I use this autism behavior checklist?”

…and I’m so glad that you asked 🙂 What I’m sharing is actually more than the checklist because I want you to be able to make informed decisions for you and your child. The checklist I created is based on my (admittedly) biased opinion that a school psychologist’s perspective makes all the difference. I think school psychologists are uniquely skilled in this area in ways that teachers, mental health professionals, and even pediatricians are not. I also wrote this from a whole child perspective because a comprehensive approach is best.

What to Look for in an Autism Behavior Checklist

There are things that your autism behavior checklist should absolutely, positively have and we’re going to discuss those checkpoints.

The autism behavior checklist that you choose should:

  1. Incorporate a culturally sensitive perspective, drawing from the insights of diverse communities. It should not only identify autistic behaviors but also acknowledge how cultural nuances shape their expression and interpretation.
  2. Resonate with individuals from various backgrounds and address the specific needs of diverse populations, including Black autistic kids.
  3. Be tailored to recognize and validate the unique strengths and challenges faced by different cultural groups.
  4. Embrace a strengths-based approach to assessment, providing a comprehensive tool for understanding and supporting individuals within their respective environments.

What you’re doing by ensuring that the list you choose checks these boxes is called ensuring fidelity. This means that you are ensuring that the measure is measuring what it’s supposed to measure and not influenced by outside stuff like cultural biases. Ensuring fidelity is an important step in creating an effective autism behavior checklist that truly reflects the behaviors and needs of kids with autism from all walks of life.

Also, a good autism behavior checklist should get updates regularly and be reflective of current research, any changes in diagnostic criteria, and the evolving views on autism in society.

While a pediatrician or general mental health professional may focus on medical or diagnostic criteria, such as physical health and developmental milestones, your checklist should prioritize understanding the nuanced behaviors within educational settings and cultural factors that influence them.

How to Look For These Things

Okay, so your next question may be “How do I make sure that each of those four boxes is checked?” 

Read through the checklists that you are considering using and also incorporate these things:

Research and Consultation: Start by researching reputable sources for autism behavior checklists and consider consulting with professionals who specialize in autism, such as school psychologists or developmental pediatricians. Seek out resources that emphasize cultural sensitivity and inclusivity.

Review Checklist Content: Carefully review the content of the checklist to ensure that it includes a diverse range of behaviors and considerations. Look for items that address cultural nuances and recognize the strengths and challenges of diverse populations.

Consider Professional Input:If possible, consult with a school psychologist or other mental health professional who has experience working with autistic individuals. They can provide valuable input on the checklist’s cultural sensitivity and effectiveness in capturing relevant behaviors.

Alright! Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s my autism behavior checklist.

The Whole School Psych Autism Behavior Checklist

  1. Does your child have difficulty making eye contact during conversations?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  1. Does your child have repetitive behaviors or movements (e.g., hand-flapping, rocking)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  2. Does your child struggle with changes in routine or transitions?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  3. Does your child show intense interests in specific topics or objects?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  4. Does your child have difficulty understanding social cues or nonverbal communication (e.g., facial expressions)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  5. Does your child have delayed or unusual language development (e.g., echolalia, difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  6. Does your child exhibit sensory sensitivities (e.g., aversion to certain textures, sounds, or lights)
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  7. Does your child have difficulty with imaginative play or pretend play?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  8. Does your child struggle with social interaction and making friends?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  9. Does your child engage in repetitive play with toys or objects (e.g., lining up toys, spinning objects)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  10. Does your child have difficulty expressing emotions or understanding others’ emotions?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  11. Does your child exhibit intense reactions to changes in the environment or unexpected events
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  12. Does your child have difficulty with fine motor skills (e.g., holding a pencil, tying shoelaces)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  13. Does your child engage in repetitive or unusual speech patterns (e.g., repeating phrases, using unusual intonations)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  14. Does your child have difficulty with organization and planning tasks?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  15. Does your child have a strong preference for sameness or routines?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  16. Does your child have trouble understanding sarcasm or jokes?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  17. Does your child have difficulty with transitions between activities or locations?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  18. Does your child exhibit unusual or repetitive body movements (e.g., hand flapping, spinning)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  19. Does your child have difficulty maintaining attention or focus for tasks or activities?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  20. Is your child meeting developmental milestones at appropriate ages (e.g., crawling, walking, speaking)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  21. Does your child have difficulty understanding facial expressions?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  22. Does your child exhibit sensitivity to loud noises or certain sounds?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  23. Does your child struggle with sensory processing (e.g., aversion to certain textures, tastes, smells)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  24. Does your child demonstrate difficulty in any areas of social communication (e.g., difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations, understanding social norms)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  25. Does your child exhibit challenges with verbal communication (e.g., limited vocabulary, difficulty expressing needs or desires)?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat
  26. Did you notice any signs of autism in early childhood (e.g., lack of babbling, limited eye contact) before the age of 2?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Somewhat

Scoring:

– Total Score 0-5: Autism is unlikely.

– Total Score 6-10: Autism is possible, further evaluation may be needed.

– Total Score 11-27: Autism is highly likely, seeking professional evaluation is recommended.

The weighted score for this checklist helps provide a clearer picture of your child’s behaviors and their potential significance in relation to autism. Each question is given a score based on the severity of the behavior – a ‘Yes’ response earns a score of 1, ‘No’ earns 0, and ‘Somewhat’ earns 0.5. This means that behaviors marked as ‘Yes’ indicate a stronger presence of that behavior, while ‘No’ indicates its absence, and ‘Somewhat’ suggests a moderate presence or occasional occurrence. 

By assigning these scores, you can assess the overall pattern and severity of your child’s behaviors.

Frequently Asked Questions

How should I interpret the scores from the checklist?

The scores from the checklist help provide an indication of the likelihood of autism in your child. A total score of 0-5 suggests that autism is unlikely. Scores between 6-10 indicate that autism is possible, and further evaluation may be needed to confirm or rule out a diagnosis. A total score of 11-27 suggests that autism is highly likely, and it’s recommended to seek professional evaluation from a healthcare provider specializing in autism.

Why are there questions about meeting developmental milestones and facial expressions on the checklist?

Meeting developmental milestones at appropriate ages and understanding facial expressions are important indicators of typical development. However, delays or difficulties in these areas (and even some aspects of developmental disabilities) can sometimes be early signs of autism. By including questions about these aspects, we can assess a broader range of behaviors and better understand your child’s developmental trajectory.

What should I do if my child scores high on the checklist?

If your child scores high on the checklist, indicating a likelihood of autism, it’s important to seek professional evaluation from a healthcare provider specializing in autism. They can conduct further assessments and provide a comprehensive evaluation to determine whether your child meets the criteria for a formal diagnosis. While choosing to take advantage of this is a personal decision (and can be discussed with your healthcare provider), early identification, intervention, and support can make a significant difference in your child’s development and quality of life and aid you in educational planning (ie. special education).

Can the checklist be used for children of all ages?

Yes, the checklist is designed to be applicable to children ranging from ages 3 to 18. However, some questions may be more relevant or observable in certain age groups. For example, developmental milestones may be more pertinent for younger children, while social communication difficulties may become more apparent as children grow older. Adjustments can be made based on your child’s age and developmental stage.

What if my child’s score falls within the “possible autism” range?

If your child’s score falls within the “possible autism” range, it’s important to follow up with further evaluation by a healthcare professional specializing in autism. They can conduct additional assessments and gather more information to make an accurate diagnosis. It’s better to err on the side of caution and seek professional guidance to ensure that your child receives the support and resources they may need.

Did this checklist include signs of asperger syndrome?

No, because asperger syndrome or asperger’s disorder is no longer a separate diagnosis under the current DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorder. However, the checklist does encompass behaviors and characteristics that were previously associated with asperger syndrome, like difficulty with social communication and repetitive patterns of behaviors.

In conclusion, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Checklist is a valuable tool for parents and caregivers to gain insight into their child’s development. By using this checklist, you can identify potential areas of concern and seek professional guidance if needed. Remember, early intervention can greatly improve your child’s long-term outcomes. So, consider using s checklist as a starting point in understanding and supporting your child on their unique journey.

With that being said, that’s it for this post! I hope you found this useful and I’ll see you in the next one. Always remember that you’ve got this.

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