Assessing the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist

Recent research from Dr. Mark Geier and his son David Geier has evaluated two of the most commonly-referenced autism assessments, the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), to learn more about their potential similarities and differences. The ATEC assessment relies on information provided by parents, while the CARS, a well-established and widely-validated assessment, offers quantitative information provided by medical professionals. Because the CARS has already proven itself to be an effective and reliable method of diagnosing autism, the Geiers primarily set out to determine if the ATEC was equally reliable by comparing its results to those generated by the CARS.

To conduct an accurate evaluation, the Geiers sought 56 children with ASD to undergo two rounds of assessment; each participant would be assessed using both the parental ATEC method and the professional CARS method. Neither parents nor medical professionals would be made aware of the other’s scores, and for consistency, all of the children were evaluated by the same medical professional.

First, a little more about the CARS and ATEC assessments. The CARS is comprised of 15 different categories, to which professionals assign a score based on their observations of a child; total assessment scores can range between 15 and 60. Scores between 15 and 29.5 indicate that a child isn’t autistic, while scores between 37 and 60 indicate a child has moderate to severe autism. Any score in between reflects the presence of mild autism. While the CARS is intended to be conducted by doctors or psychologists on a single occasion, the ATEC is intended for parents, teachers, and others who’ve observed a child’s behavior over an extended period of time.

So what did the Geiers learn about the ATEC scores as they compared to the CARS scores?

The assessments conducted by parents using the ATEC method actually yielded scores that were significantly correlated to CARS scores. Scores in the Sensory/Cognitive Awareness domains and Speech/Language/Communication demonstrated a particularly high correlation, with correlations of .74 and .72, respectively. Overall, the ATEC assessment scores showed a .71 overall correlation to the CARS assessment scores.

These findings are significant not only because they help validate the reliability of the parental ATEC assessment, but because the ATEC is one of the few autism assessments that takes into account the health and physical symptoms of a child. Even the CARS assessment provides us with little insight as to an ASD individual’s physical symptoms, which explains why the correlation between the two assessments in the Health and Physical Behavior domain was so weak.  This means that going forward, parents can feel more assured in turning to the ATEC assessment to derive accurate information about their child’s symptoms, including those other assessments fail to adequately address.


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