Early and appropriate diagnosis is considered to be the first step towards securing a better future for the child on the autism spectrum.  However, it does not matter what age an individual is; there are no limits as to when they can receive a diagnosis, nor are there any restrictions of the benefits they can receive from obtaining a diagnosis.  Receiving a diagnosis and explanation of a person’s needs can:

  • Bring a sense of relief (both for the individual and the family)
  • Allow access to services they would otherwise not be entitled to or aware of
  • Bring about a better understanding of how to deal with any problems the individual on the autism spectrum may have
  • Give families access to a range of financial support
  • Help signpost to a range of therapies/interventions which may help an individual on the autism spectrum to cope and learn

A diagnosis of autism often presents great challenges to the family.  It may cause the individual, their parents, carers and people close to them to feel confused, upset, angry and even guilty.  It will affect every member of the family in different ways and it is important to acknowledge that they will require their own level of understanding and access to particular sources of information, help and support.

What to do if you suspect your child has autism

Parents often suspect that their child is different, long before the diagnosis, perhaps due to delays in achieving milestones, or unusual social behaviours.

If you have concerns regarding your child contact your family doctor to discuss these.  It would be useful to keep a diary recording any observations or behaviours that you believe are a cause for concern.  If you are having difficulty obtaining a referral for your child, be persistent.  Share information about autism with your doctor, together with your own notes, and request to see another doctor if you are not satisfied.

If your doctor shares your concern they will formally refer your child to your local diagnostic team.  These are usually based within your local hospital.  Usually, initial referrals are made to a community paediatrician in the local child development team, however you may be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist as   the process will vary dependent on where you live.  The process will involve a number of appointments both with and without your child.  The professional will require detailed information regarding your child’s early development, as far back as pregnancy, and relevant family history.  A series of assessments of your child will also be carried out, including a physical examination, cognitive assessment and observations.  Observations may be conducted in the assessment setting or real life settings such as your child’s school.