Autism diagnosis for children
Getting a formal autism diagnosis can mean access to the right support, as well as an explanation for why certain things are so difficult.
Before you request an autism diagnosis there are many support groups and charities available. These services can help you before, during and after your diagnosis.
If your child is diagnosed with autism it is called a diagnosis of autism spectrum condition (ASC).
Who you ask for a diagnosis depends on how old your child is.
When you or your child's school ask for a diagnosis, the health professional will gather information about what's been done already and how well it's working. They will use this information to decide whether a diagnosis is necessary.
0 to 5 year olds
Speak to your GP first. Once they're convinced of your child's difficulties they should refer your child to a paediatrician.
If your child is at nursery or pre-school, they may be able to support you in getting a diagnosis.
Children at school
You should always speak to the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) in your child's school first. They can give your child extra support and help you get support outside of school.
If they've tried everything and you still have concerns, you can ask the school to refer them for a diagnosis. You can also ask your GP to refer your child if the school aren't supportive of a referral.
5 to 8 years
The school will refer your child to a paediatrician.
8 to 11 years
The school will refer your child to support teams according to where you live:
- Ashford, Canterbury and coastal, south Kent coast and Thanet are referred to Pscicon
- Dartford, Gravesham, Swale and Swanley: paediatrics team at Medway NHS Foundation Trust
12 to 17 years
The school can refer your child to The Children and Young People's Mental Health Service (CYPMHS).
If your child is school age but not at school
You can talk to your GP yourself if your child is school age but not at school.
Two professionals should jointly diagnose. Under the age of 11 it would usually be a paediatrician and a speech and language therapist. Over the age of 11, it would generally be a psychologist and a speech and language therapist.
Different professionals can use different methods to diagnose autism, but they should follow the NICE Clinical Guideline 128.
The assessment should involve the professionals talking with you, talking with and observing your child and finding out about:
- parental concerns, and those of your child if appropriate
- how your child has been getting on at home, in nursery or school, or in care
- your child's past and present health, and that of the family
- your child's behaviour and development.
The assessment should include someone who is able to assess children and young people who have visual or hearing impairments, conditions like cerebral palsy, language difficulties, mental health problems and intellectual disabilities.
Your child should be given a physical examination. There may also be other specific assessments that could help to provide more information, such as an assessment of how your child uses language.
It may be useful for your child to see different healthcare or educational professionals. The professionals will talk to each other and share information so that an assessment is not repeated unnecessarily.
They will use all the information from the assessment, the information provided by you and any information from your child's school or healthcare professional to help them come to a decision about whether your child has autism.
The result of the assessment could be:
- a diagnosis of autism spectrum condition (ASC)
- a diagnosis of ASC with another condition such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- an uncertain diagnosis, followed by a discussion about why it's uncertain and what else may need to be investigated
- ASC not diagnosed but social communication difficulties are identified. They will then help you find out where and how to get support
- ASC not diagnosed – further work is needed to identify and meet the needs of your child.
If autism is diagnosed
If your child is diagnosed with ASC, the professionals carrying out the assessment will give you information and advice on support for you and your child.
If autism is not diagnosed
Sometimes, not having a clear diagnosis can be just as difficult for you to come to terms with. Your child may still have other needs, even if ASC is not diagnosed.
Needs at school: if the school, college, nursery or other pre-school setting is still concerned, they can talk to other agencies for support and guidance. If your child is identified as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), the nursery, school or college must provide support.
Needs outside of school: your child may need support for other difficulties outside school. This may be health of social needs. Professionals will work with you and your child to explore the possibility of other assessments and support where appropriate. This may involve new professionals from other specialist areas.
Support after diagnosis
You can get advice about what to do if you don’t agree with the outcome of the assessment or have a complaint. Who you contact depends on where you live.