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As a family you may have concerns about your child’s development. You may notice signs of delay, changes in communication, behaviour or social skills.
These changes may also be highlighted by professionals such as Teachers or Health Visitors. If you are worried about your child’s development, the best starting point is your GP or a paediatrician. Diagnosis can also occur much later in life for some, with many people being diagnosed as adults.
Who decides if my child needs a diagnosis?
A team of professionals will observe and review information about your child and ask you questions as a family. This will include observations of your child’s communication, social interaction and play across a range of settings including home, nursery or school. This will help them to understand your child’s level of need. The team may include:
How is a diagnosis made?
The team can agree on a diagnosis of autism if a consensus is reached from observations of your child. If there is a need to find out further information, a formal assessment will be recommended. These assessments provide a detailed understanding of areas of language, social interaction, play, imagination, behaviour and sensory need.
Diagnosis criteria for autism include deficits in use or understanding of social communication and social interaction as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities. There will need to be sufficient evidence of deficits in these areas for a diagnosis to be made. For more detail about the diagnosis criteria click here.
How long will a diagnosis take?
The length of time that it takes to receive a diagnosis varies across the country. Recent data published by the NHS in 2019 shows that it can take up to two years in some areas of the UK. A diagnosis can be sought privately.
What does a diagnosis mean?
Autism is lifelong. A diagnosis could help your child to access the best available support for their needs. You will be provided with information on local services to better understand the diagnosis and support the family. A diagnosis of autism can help your child access additional support within their educational setting, for example by requesting an assessment for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
Autism diagnosis in adults
It is quite common for people to go through life without a diagnosis. For some people getting a diagnosis may help them to understand difficulties they have as well as help them to get reasonable adjustments at work or university.
The first step to getting a diagnosis is to arrange an appointment with your GP. If your GP agrees to make a referral an appointment will be made with a local diagnostic service. If your GP doesn’t make a referral you can ask for a further appointment or seek a second opinion.
Most adults will see a psychiatrist or psychologist as part of the assessment and you may be asked to bring an informant who knew you as a child such as a parent or sibling to help them understand your childhood.