If you are concerned that you or your child is showing signs of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, you should speak to your GP, who should be able to refer you for a formal assessment (diagnosis). You may have to wait some time before you actually go for the assessment, as many NHS services can have long waiting times.
Some individuals consider seeking a private assessment to reduce the waiting time. The cost of private assessments can vary hugely (£500 to £1500). It is worth contacting a few places to find out about the overall costs, and what is included in the price.
As a caution, sometimes some clinicians may use the phrase “autistic tendencies” rather than give a clear diagnosis. Such a loose phrase often doesn’t help families or individuals who are looking for official help and support because it implies that the sufferer doesn’t actually have ASD, meaning they don’t qualify for support. It may be helpful to discuss this with the person you decide to see.
As an additional caution, you should also know that some local authorities might not accept the results of a private diagnosis and insist upon an NHS diagnosis before they agree to provide local services to your child in particular.
For this reason, some people decide to seek a private diagnosis to reduce the waiting time, whilst staying on the waiting list for an NHS assessment. When they are seen a less comprehensive and timely approach can sometimes be taken, and in some cases the NHS assessment has provided confirmation of the private diagnosis.
If your child is referred to a private professional they should be a Clinical Psychologist or a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, it’s important that they have experience in diagnosing ASD. If in doubt ask the professional what their experience is. Sometimes assessments of ASD are multi-disciplinary, meaning that different components of the assessment are undertaken by different professionals within a mental health team.
The diagnosis is concluded or excluded by your psychologist or psychiatrist after gathering the following information:
- Screening tests.
- Reports from outside observers such as teachers.
- For children a school observation may be undertaken.
- An objective physical assessment of how the person presents.
- A detailed family history.
- Assessment information that rules out other disabilities and conditions.
- Diagnostic test such as the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observational Schedule).
- A history of the development of ASD symptoms.
- Information on how the disability has affected functioning, including family, friendship relationships, and interests.
- Information on how the sufferer deals with a variety of situations.
- Mental health information on any co-existing difficulties anxiety, social anxiety, ADHD, and other learning disabilities.
Once all this information is gathered we can see if a diagnosis of ASD is warranted. Following your assessment you should receive a written report with an official diagnosis, which you can then use to access services/support.
If you’d like to read more about the symptoms of Autism, Asperger Syndrome, or ASD click here.