How assessment and diagnosis works
Getting an autism assessment is important for several reasons. An autism diagnosis will provide you with important information about your child's development and behaviour and could enable you to unlock further support to meet their needs.
Even if you're not sure about whether your child has autism, going through the assessment process may help you to better understand and cater for your child's needs.
How do I request an autism assessment?
You will need to have a conversation with your GP or health visitor in order to request a referral for a paediatric assessment. The professional you speak to will want to know what is causing you concern and will evaluate whether your child needs an assessment.
To help you collect your family history and evidence of your concerns, we have created an observational diary in our parent toolkit which you can use to track and record your child's development.
What will happen at the assessment?
Exactly how the assessment is carried out depends on your local authority. In its autism guidelines, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) says that every local area should have a multi-disciplinary team who will carry out the autism diagnostic assessment. This team might include a paediatrician, an educational psychologist, a child psychiatrist or a speech and language therapist (SaLT), for example.
Further information about these different roles can be found in our parent toolkit.
In some areas the assessment might involve the GP or health visitor coming to visit your child at home or at their nursery, or you may be invited to a 'screening playgroup'. Alternatively you might be referred directly for a diagnosis appointment normally at a clinic, a health centre or a child development centre.
What criteria to diagnose autism?
During an autism diagnosis, clinicians use a diagnostic tool for profiling autism to determine whether or not the person has autism.
The chosen tool may vary but these are some of the most common diagnostic tools used in the UK:
- Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)
- Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO)
- Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADI-R)
What happens after diagnosis?
What happens following a diagnosis also depends on where you live. Some professionals offer telephone advice or regular visits with your child. However, this is not always the case and there is no 'standard model', so it's important to find out as much as you can about your local pathway.
The best way to do this is through the 'Local Offer' - this is the directory of local services for children and young people with special needs and disabilities that every local authority must publish by law.
In most cases this will be published on your council's website.
The Coram Family and Childcare Trust have an online Family Information Service finder to find your local service.
You should also consider requesting an assessment for an Education, Health and Care plan to ensure your child's educational needs are promptly assessed. You do not have to have a formal diagnosis of autism to start this process.
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