Assessing severity of autism, therapies, and progress.

"A child with autism (three years old) po...

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It’s important to be able to assess how well a therapy is working for your autistic child, and more generally, whether their autism is getting better or worse. My favourite tool for measuring both, is this online ATEC (“Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist”). It’s free, and you won’t be breaching anyone’s copyright by taking the test online (unlike some other tests you’ll find online).

The ATEC checklist gives you a baseline – a starting reference point for the your child’s autism. It will tell you how severe their autism currently is, and what areas they are struggling or doing well in from speech; sociability; sensory / cognitive awareness; and health / physical / behaviour. It is also a very useful way to measure the efficacy of a new therapy: Before you start the therapy, do the checklist and note the score. After the therapy has been underway for a while (maybe a month – depending on how quickly the therapy claims to show progress), do the ATEC again and compare the scores.

You’ll notice that there is an extensive section at the top asking you to provide your name and a bunch of other details before you get further down to the actual checklist. I just ignore those bits and go straight to the checklist – I don’t have the time to fill in lots of personal information and I don’t want to give strangers that information either. Fill them in if you like, but be aware that you can do the checklist without having to; don’t let that put you off the exercise.

I do an ATEC score each month for my son, and keep a hard-copy spreadsheet to track his progress. By each new line of scores, I make a note of whatever therapies and activities he is currently undergoing. I take joy and pride in the areas he is improving in, and don’t let myself get upset if something has gotten worse or isn’t improving at the moment; it’s important to remember that autism “cycles” – it can be two steps forward, one step backwards, and that’s just the way it goes. As long as there’s an over-all trend of improvement over time you’re doing fine.

I find it best if it’s the same person taking the test each time, for the sake of consistency.

The lower the score, the better. The top score is 180. A good guide to help you figure out the practical importance of the score is that under 30 is a high chance of a normal life, 30 to 50 is a good chance of a semi-independent life, and over 104 is severely autistic.

The first time I took the ATEC test (in March 2009), my son’s score was 65. He is now (October 2010) down to 38. I keep my eye on that magical 30 mark. I use the questions in the checklist to help to figure out what I should work on with him too, which can be quite insightful.

It takes about ten minutes to fill out – maybe longer if it’s your first time, shorter once you get used to the questions. Answer the questions in regards to the norm for their current age – for example, don’t mark wetting diapers as a serious problem if they’re at the age when they’d be in diapers anyway.

I’d be really interested to hear what score your autistic child gets, and whether you found the checklist as useful as I have. I’d also love to hear if you have some other system to fulfill the same purpose of assessing your child’s progress.

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