What happens when we think a child may show signs of autism?
How is a diagnosis of autism made?
A diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is a medical diagnosis.
To make a diagnosis of ASD a Community Paediatrician (a specialist in child health) needs to be involved or another specialist medical practitioner, such as a doctor from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). The child's GP or school can refer them to a Community Paediatrician or to CAMHS.
Because ASD is a communication and interaction disorder, the other health professional most likely to be involved is a Speech and Language Therapist (SALT).
The school is likely to refer the child to the Educational Psychologist (EP) if autism is suspected. The EP will give their opinion about the likelihood of the child having ASD and will offer advice to the school about strategies to help the child.
If we feel that a pupil has ASD, we will (along with parents/carers) complete a referral form from both school and parent/carer perspective. The forms are submitted to the Referral Management Centre to be screened and passed to the relevant services.
You may have to wait sometime before you go for the assessment. Your child should be assessed by a Multidisciplinary Diagnostic Team which might include, for example, a paediatrician, a speech and language therapist and an educational psychologist.
In the meantime, a referral to other teams such as a speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or portage/specialist support service will be made. These professionals may be able to help you to understand your child's needs better.
For preschool children (0-4) the Early years SEND Team (Portage) can work with the family and pre-school setting to build up evidence to support a diagnosis. This team have access to Educational Psychologists who are critical to the diagnostic process. However, there is a general preference to avoid diagnosing too young. In the South of the county, preschool children are referred to the CDC (Child development centre). In contrast, in the North of the county, it would be the Community Paediatrician.
Please note, even if your child is "holding things together" at school, it is still helpful to keep communication open with the school.
Completing the ages and stages questionnaire (social and emotional) can show up areas of difficulty relating to autistic traits that the standard ASQ would miss. This can be a useful tool to complete and then share with the school/Health Visitor/GP to enable referral onto appropriate support.