The Childhood Autism Rating Scale, or CARS, is a diagnostic tool designed to evaluate children who are suspected of having autism. Suitable for the evaluation of children two years old or older, CARS examines and scores a number of factors to aid in distinguishing children with autism from those with other developmental disabilities. CARS also helps to determine the degree to which individual with autism are affected. Presented in questionnaire form, this scale is completed based on direct behavior observation by a professional as well as reports from parents, teachers, or caretakers.
CARS was developed by staff of the Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Children program, or TEACCH, and was published in 1980. Over a period of fifteen years, TEACCH staff used a database of over 1,500 cases to develop this comprehensive autism diagnostic tool. Clinicians and other professionals with minimal autism experience can easily administer this test. CARS has shown impressive results in the diagnosis of adolescents as well, according to a study done by the University of Texas Health Science Center.
How the Childhood Autism Rating Scale Works
CARS examines fifteen categories of behaviors, characteristics, and abilities against the expected development of typical children to determine whether autistic symptoms are present. The categories evaluated are as follows:
- Relating to people
- Emotional response
- Body use
- Object use
- Adaptation to change
- Visual response
- Listening response
- Taste, smell, and touch response and use
- Fear or nervousness
- Verbal communication
- Nonverbal communication
- Activity level
- Level and consistency of intellectual response
- General impressions
The Childhood Autism Rating Scale categories are scored on a scale of one through four, with half points awarded for those that are between those steps. For instance a score of 1.5 can be given for a behavior that falls between the criteria for a scores of one or two. Scoring standards are as follows:
- 1-within the normal range for child's age
- 2-mildly abnormal
- 3-moderately abnormal
- 4-severely abnormal
CARS scores range from 15 to 60, and the cutoff point for an autism diagnosis is a score of 30 or above. Scores falling within the range for a diagnosis of autism are broken down further to reflect the degree in which symptoms are present. According to the scoring standards of CARS, scores between 30 and 37 indicate mild to moderate autism and scores between 38 and 60 are characterized as severe autism.
While the Childhood Autism Rating Scale is available for sale from a variety of sources and can be found on the Internet, using it to evaluate your child on your own is not advised. CARS was designed to be used by professionals, well practiced in behavioral observation and well versed in child development, depending upon these factors for accurate results.