How Is Autism Diagnosed?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that ranges from mild to severe and includes repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, restricted interests, and rigidity. Autism compromises development in multiple areas, creating additional challenges in life that neurotypical individuals do not have to deal with.

Autism can affect anyone, but ASD diagnosis occurs more frequently in boys than girls.

Evaluation and testing for autism are recommended when children are not meeting developmental milestones. The sooner an autism diagnostic test is performed, the sooner treatment intervention can be implemented if needed. Just how early can autism be diagnosed? ASD assessments can be performed on children as young as 18 months of age.[i]

Autism evaluations do not consist of lab or blood tests. There is no specific test for Autism Spectrum Disorder but the evaluation is based on behavioral observations and identifying developmental deficits. [ii]

The Drake Institute uses a unique non-drug approach to treating autism that includes qEEG brain mapping to identify brain dysregulation linked to autism symptoms. For decades, we have used advanced treatment technologies like qEEG brain mapping and neurofeedback to address brain dysregulation in order to reduce or resolve symptoms.

For more information regarding our non-drug treatment protocols, call us at 800-700-4233 or fill out the contact form.

What Is Autism?

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, includes a wide range of neurodevelopmental conditions, such as Asperger’s, childhood disintegration disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).[iii] [iv] [v]

According to the CDC, about 1 in 68 children in the US has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism is more common in boys than girls, and it can also be diagnosed in adults.[vi]

Autism Evaluation: How Does It Work?

Testing for autism isn’t as simple as sending a blood sample to a lab or taking an x-ray. Because it is a neurodevelopmental disorder, autism evaluation begins with identifying any areas where the child is not meeting expected developmental milestones.

Parents, childcare workers, teachers, and others who interact with the child are generally the first to notice any developmental delays or differences. Actively monitoring your child’s development will help facilitate identifying potential signs of autism early on.

Your child’s pediatrician will also monitor your child’s development at their recommended checkups at certain ages. The doctor will ask you how your child interacts, communicates, and behaves and whether they are meeting milestones. Based on your observations, your doctor may make an appropriate referral to an autism specialist who knows how to diagnose autism.

An autism evaluation is recommended if monitoring reveals atypical development that suggests characteristics of autism. Your doctor may do a screening during a well-child visit. School nurses or other early childcare professionals may also have you complete questionnaires about your child. If screening indicates that autism may be present, a formal evaluation may be encouraged for an official diagnosis of ASD. [vii] [viii]

Autism Diagnostic Criteria

Autism can be complicated to diagnose. As a result of decades of research and a better understanding of autism that can differentiate it from other disorders, certain criteria have been identified that make diagnosing autism more clear.

In general, symptoms must be severe enough to impair daily life, exhibiting repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, restricted interests, and rigidity. How do you test for autism? Have a look at the following criteria.

Deficits In Social Communication & Social Interaction

This includes an inability to participate in a back-and-forth or reciprocal conversations, or failure to share interests or feelings. It may be difficult to form and maintain friendships. Poor eye contact and difficulty understanding facial expressions, other people’s emotional reactions, and social cues may be present.

Restricted, Repetitive Pattern Of Behaviors, Interests, Or Activities

People with ASD often rely on routines, which means they may struggle with changes or transitions. They may be uncomfortably sensitive to light, temperature, sound, textures, tastes, and more.

Many autistic people fixate on specific interests or activities. They may exhibit repetitive actions or repeat words.

Symptoms Must Be Present In The Early Developmental Period

Signs and symptoms of autism must be present during early development but may not manifest completely until later on. It is crucial that your pediatrician monitor development during this time.

Symptoms Cause Impairment

For an ASD diagnosis to be reached, the symptoms must cause impairment to the child’s social experiences and behavior.

How Early Can Autism Be Diagnosed?

How early autism can be diagnosed depends on the signs exhibited by the child. In most cases, autism is diagnosed around 18 months, sometimes younger. By two years of age, an autism diagnosis by a medical professional can be considered reliable.

Attentive developmental monitoring and timely well-child visits can help get an early diagnosis, which is crucial for the proper treatment of the disorder. [ix]

What Are The Causes Of Autism?

Autism is a complex disorder that is best treated with a multi-disciplinary approach Genetics, as well as non-genetic factors, have also been linked to ASD. Complications during pregnancy, brain inflammation, infections, and environmental pollutants are all thought to potentially play a role. [x]

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Autism?

Autism appears differently in each separate case, but there are several common signs and symptoms of autism. How early autism can be diagnosed depends on the severity of the symptoms. Early indications can sometimes be seen by nine months. An autism test or evaluation will look at the following communication and behavioral symptoms.

Communication Symptoms In Children

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Doesn’t respond to name by 9 months of age
  • Lack of facial expressions (e.g., happy, sad, angry, etc.) by 9 months of age
  • Doesn’t play simple interactive games (e.g., pat-e-cake) by 12 months of age
  • Uses few or no hand gestures (e.g., doesn’t wave hello or goodbye) by 12 months of age
  • Does not share interests with others (e.g., doesn’t show you their favorite toy) by 15 months of age
  • Doesn’t point to show you something interesting by 18 months of age
  • Doesn’t notice when others are hurt or upset by 24 months of age
  • Doesn’t notice other children and play with them by 36 months of age
  • Doesn’t pretend to be someone else (e.g., teacher, superhero, etc.) by 48 months of age
  • Doesn’t sing, act, or dance for you by 60 months of age

Behavioral Symptoms Of Autism In Children

  • Gets upset when the “order” of their toys or other belongings is disturbed
  • Repeats words or phrases
  • Plays with toys the same way every time
  • Focuses on parts of objects (e.g., wheels on a car)
  • Gets upset by minor changes
  • Has obsessive interests
  • Follows specific routines
  • Has unusual reactions to the way things taste, sound, look, or feel[xi]

How The Drake Institute Treats Autism

Treating the various symptoms of autism is challenging and complex. The Drake Institute uses specialized, advanced technologies like QEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neurostimulation to help reduce the presence and severity of symptoms related to autism, ADHD, stress, anxiety, PTSD, and other medical conditions.

The Drake Institute uses the following technologies to help patients with brain-based disorders.

Brain Mapping

Along with the clinical evaluation, brain mapping is one of the first steps in addressing autism symptoms. In this stage, 19 sensors are placed around the patient’s scalp in predetermined locations of the brain responsible for focus, executive functioning, memory, language, social processing, emotional regulation, and more.

The sensors measure brain activity and the results are analyzed to identify any areas or brain networks that are dysregulated linked to symptoms. Our Medical Director connects the findings on the QEEG to what is happening with the patient so that he can develop an effective and individualized treatment protocol for each patient.


After brain mapping has been completed, neurofeedback therapy is used to help patients manage and reduce the symptoms of autism.

This treatment protocol helps reduce or resolve brain dysregulation by guiding brain activity toward healthier, more functional patterns.

In some patients, biomedical abnormalities may need to be treated to maximize improvement from neurofeedback.


As an adjunct to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into healthier functional patterns. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also use neurostimulation. We have found this to be particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

At the Drake Institute, we know how challenging even day to life can be for autistic children and their parents. Contact us for details on how we can help improve symptoms of disorders like autism, ADHD, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and more. Please fill out the free consultation form or call us at 800-700-4233.













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“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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