How is direct observation used in evaluating autism?

Information about a child’s emotional, social, communication, and cognitive abilities is gathered through child-directed interactions, observations of the child in various situations, and interviews of parents and care givers. Parents and family members should be actively involved throughout these assessments.

What actually occurs during a specific assessment depends on what information parents and evaluators want to know.


  • Functional Assessments aim to discover why a challenging behavior (such as tantruming and head banging) is occurring. Based on the premise that challenging behaviors are a way of communicating, functional assessment involves interviews, direct observations, and interactions to determine what a child with autism or a related disability is trying to communicate through their behavior. Once the purpose of the challenging behavior is determined, an alternative, more acceptable means for achieving that purpose can be developed. This helps eliminate the challenging behavior.
  • Play-based Assessments involve adult observation and partial participation in structured and unstructured play situations that provide information about a child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and communication development. By determining a child’s learning style and interaction pattern through play-based assessments, an individualized treatment plan can be developed.

Source: Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (CARD)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.