AUTISM ASSESSMENT AND DIAGNOSIS
for Children and Teenagers
If you suspect or have been advised that your child or teenager may have an Autism Spectrum condition (ASC) and would like a diagnostic assessment, we can help.
A diagnosis of autism is significant by any standards so NICE guidelines recommend multi-disciplinary team involvement in any diagnosis of autism for a young person to help ensure reliability. Our team contribute from the perspective of different professional disciplines and are experts in assessing autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. Autism can present differently in boys and girls, we recognise this and work with both sexes.
We offer valuable advice and guidance tailored to the needs of your child as well as signposting you to services that may be able to meet your ongoing needs following the assessment.
‘’What is Autism? ‘’
Autism spectrum condition (ASC) is the name for a range of conditions, also sometimes called Asperger Syndrome that affect a person’s social communication, interaction, interests and behaviour. In children with an ASC, the symptoms are present before the age of three years, although a diagnosis is often made later than this. Autism is a lifelong condition.
What might I notice?
difficulty using non-verbal behaviour to interact with others, for example, making eye-contact, using facial expressions, body language and gesture. Children may lack awareness of and show less interest in other children.
finding it hard to ‘read’ and understand other people’s thoughts and feelings, making it difficult for them to relate to others. Learnt words or phrases are repeated that may stand out as not fitting with what is being said or talked about. Some children don’t demonstrate imaginative or pretend play, or their play may be repetitive.
keeping the same routine and sometimes even very minor changes can be very distressing. Repetitive behaviour may also be present, for example motor movements of the hands or arms. Anxiety/OCD and obsessive interests may also be a feature.
under or over sensitivity to certain sensory stimulation: noises, textures, smells, temperatureetc which can lead to ‘overload’ in certain environments, angry or aggressive outbursts and difficulties with behaviour.
boys or girls may experience a variety of difficulties at home and at school, coping with relationships, routines, change in environment and the difficulties of being a teenager.
‘’Does my Child Have Autism?’’
You may be wondering if your child has an autism spectrum condition because you or others have noticed that your child has what seem like autistic traits and/or needs additional support around their social-communication difficulties. You may be wondering if your child is 'autistic' because you have read something about autism, seen a programme on TV or looked it up on the internet and think that it describes some of your child’s behaviours and experiences.
It is worth bearing in mind that a child without autism can present with autistic-like behaviour, for example if they have learning difficulties, severe anxiety, experienced adverse childhood events or trauma, among other things. An assessment can help determine whether your child’s difficulties are actually due to autism.
‘’Will my child's school or college accept the outcome of an assessment conducted in the private sector?’’
Many parents and carers may be concerned, or may have heard that the assessment findings will not be accepted by their child's school or college because the assessment has not been conducted by clinicians working in the NHS. The issue is not whether your child has been assessed within the NHS or the private sector, but whether the assessment has been carried out by suitably trained, qualified and experienced clinicians and has followed NICE guidelines. All of the clinicians on our multi-disciplinary team are fully trained and highly experienced in the assessment and diagnosis of autism. The clinical leads for our autism pathway also work or have worked carrying out autism assessment in the NHS. Schools and colleges will therefore be able to accept the findings as reliable and valid.
What are the benefits of a diagnosis?
For many parents getting a timely and thorough assessment and diagnosis may be helpful because:
It may help your family and those teaching and caring for your child to understand what he or she finds difficult and why.
They may have been wrongly diagnosed with another condition or mental health problem and getting the right diagnosis means accessing the right help or helping others understand their needs.
It may help you to access appropriate services and benefits.
It will be especially helpful for your child's school to know what adjustments might be helpful for your child and what kind of extra help they might need..
It means that school, colleges and universities can make reasonable adjustments for your child to make the environment more user-friendly.
A diagnosis can also help the young person make sense of their life experiences. It is up to you whether you decide to seek a diagnosis for your child; some people are happy to remain un-diagnosed. The only way to know for sure whether your child is autistic is to get a formal diagnostic assessment.
What is involved in the formal diagnostic process?
1. Initial screening:
This is organised with a member of our team and is your opportunity to discuss the experiences in your child’s life and the behaviours that you think may be associated with autism. We will ask you and the child's school to complete screening questionnaires to help with this initial part of the assessment.
It is important to remember that not all assessments will result in a diagnosis of autism. In order to diagnose autism, it is important to rule out other potential explanations for the behavioural differences of concern. This is because the behavioural features of autism can sometimes share similarities with other conditions or mental health problems. That is why some initial questionnaires will screen for other related conditions, e.g. ADHD.
If there is sufficient evidence to justify going on to the full diagnostic assessment, the stages are as follows:
2. Detailed developmental history:
A nationally recommended diagnostic instrument, such as the ADI-R, will be used. The assessment covers both current and historical information across the different settings of home, school and other environments that may be relevant.
Please note: The child will not need to be present for this stage of the assessment. We will need to send some questionnaires for you, as the parent/guardian, and the school to complete.
3. Structured Observation:
A structured observation using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule -2 (ADOS-2) is conducted with a different member of the team to offer further objective direct assessment. It is a semi-structured, standardised assessment of communication, social interaction, and play or imaginative use of materials.
The child will need to be present for this stage of the assessment.
4. Multi-disciplinary team review and report:
The multi-disciplinary team then reviews the information, decides on the diagnosis and produces a report.
Neither you as the parent/guardian nor the child will be present for this stage of the assessment.
5. Outcome feedback session:
It is important that the outcome of the assessment and report are shared with you and any significant others you wish to attend in an outcome feedback session. Here you have the opportunity to go through the findings with the clinician and develop individualised recommendations to meet the child's needs.
6. Post-assessment sessions:
If the assessment outcome was a diagnosis of autism, or if a need was identified at initial assessment stage, we also offer additional further post-assessment or therapy sessions to offer support, guidance and advice to address any on-going needs you may have.