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Autism Assessment And Diagnosis - What To Expect

Whether you have a suspicion your child may be on the autism spectrum, or their school has come to you suggesting it, the idea of pursuing a diagnosis can be daunting and stressful.

Obtaining a diagnosis can actually be positive, as it allows both parents and school staff to gain a better understanding of your child’s needs. As well as this, it allows the school to put measures in place to help your child to cope in the school environment, bringing awareness to exactly what they need in order to feel more comfortable.

Characteristics of autism vary wildly from person to person, and the term encompasses a wide spectrum of different traits. There’s a saying that “if you’ve met one person with autism… you’ve met one person with autism” - no two people are the same.

What happens with an autism diagnosis?

The first thing to bear in mind is that gaining a diagnosis can be a lengthy process. If you are unsure whether to take that first step, bear in mind that it may take some time before any diagnosis is reached.

Some parents feel it’s better to begin the process as soon as possible after the question is raised; others may feel that they don’t wish to go down that route at all. Because it can take so long to get an appointment, it may be worth requesting a referral anyway so that there are no unnecessary delays. The time involved in the process means you will have plenty of time to give the issue more thought and to research and understand what happens.

Asking For A Referral

The first step is usually to speak with your health visitor or GP. Prepare a list of the behaviours or characteristics your child has been displaying which has led you to consider autism. It may be useful to keep a diary of behaviour and any incidents, so that you are easily able to say how often certain things happen.

Screening For Autism

There are apps and websites available that offer checklists and questions, claiming to be able to screen for autism - but these can be problematic and will most probably not hold much authority with your GP or local health service.

If your child is pre-school age, your GP or health visitor may conduct a screening interview which will not provide a formal diagnosis, but can indicate whether your child may be autistic.

If your child is in school, it is worth speaking to the school SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator). Your child’s teacher may also have noticed behaviours or characteristics in your child.

Referral For An Autism Diagnosis

Once you have spoken to your GP or health visitor, if they agree with you that your child may have autism your child will be referred for a formal assessment and diagnosis. There may be a considerable delay before you actually go for the assessment, but in the meantime your child may be referred for other assistance such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy or educational support services.

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