At-Home Autism Checklists for Toddlers

Although most pediatricians care for children with autism spectrum disorders, they didn't routinely screen for autism until 2007, when the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) published two clinical reports: "Identification and Evaluation of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders," and “Management of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders." Both reports were updated in 2020.

A mother talking to a pediatrician about her child
Tetra Images / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Screening for Autism

The reports recommended that pediatricians:

  • Conduct surveillance for autism at every well-child visit, including looking for subtle signs​
  • Screen children for autism using a formal screening tool or checklist when they are 18 and 24 months old
  • Schedule a special visit to address any concerns a parent may have about autism

Most importantly, the AAP recommends that pediatricians send children for a comprehensive autism evaluation if they have a positive autism screening test, in addition to signing them up for a hearing test and early childhood intervention services.

As of 2013, when the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) came out, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is divided into three levels, with Level 1 considered the mildest form of the disorder, Level 2 a moderate form, and Level 3 the most severe.

Level 1 Autism Checklists for Toddlers

When people talk about tests for autism, they're referring to an autism checklist that can be used to screen toddlers.

Common checklists for initially screening autism in toddlers include:

  • Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (CHAT)
  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers—Revised With Follow-up (M-CHAT-R/F)
  • Early Screening of Autistic Traits (ESAT)

All of these Level 1 autism checklists can be filled out, typically by the parent, although some have questions that are answered by the pediatrician, in just five to 15 minutes.

Level 2 Autism Checklists for Toddlers

Level 2 autism screening checklists, usually used for toddlers who have a positive Level 1 autism checklist, are also available. They can take from five to 20 minutes to complete, but require extra training to administer and interpret, so they usually won't be available in your pediatrician's office. They include:

  • Autism Behavior Checklist (ABC)​
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale, second edition (CARS2)
  • Gilliam Asperger's Disorder Scale (GADS)
  • Gilliam Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition (GARS-2)
  • PDD Screening Test-II, Developmental Clinic Screener
  • PDD Screening Test-II, Autism Clinic Severity Screener
  • The Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT)

Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers

M-CHAT is one of the most popular autism checklists used by pediatricians. In addition to being quick and easy to use, it's available for free. In fact, parents can even take the M-CHAT-R online and bring the results to their pediatrician. A child has a positive screening for autism if three or more of the 20 total M-CHAT questions get a failed response.

An M-CHAT follow-up interview should also be done for children who have a positive M-CHAT screen. This follow-up interview can help to decrease the number of children who fail the M-CHAT but who do not actually have autism—false-positive test results. Children with a total M-CHAT score of 8 or more probably don't need to have the M-CHAT-R follow-up interview and can go straight to the comprehensive autism evaluation.

A Positive M-CHAT Screen Needs Further Evaluation

Keep in mind that a positive M-CHAT screen doesn't always mean that your child has autism. Other causes of developmental delays could cause a positive screen too. That's why the next step should usually include a comprehensive autism evaluation, which would usually include Level 2 autism screening, in addition to signing your child up for a hearing test and early childhood intervention services.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hyman SL, Levy SE, Myers SM. Identification, Evaluation, and Management of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Pediatrics. 2020;145(1). doi:10.1542/peds.2019-3447

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screening and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder for healthcare providers. Reviewed August 27, 2019.

  3. M-CHAT. FREE screening test.

Additional Reading