As a parent you may be worried about your child’s development. You, or someone close to you, may have noticed that your child’s speech is delayed, or that they seem to be ‘aloof’ or ‘detached’ from you. There can be many reasons for a child’s development being delayed. One of the possibilities could be autism.
As an adult, you may see the world differently from others, or feel yourself to be “different” from others. You may have difficulty understanding what people mean or find what they say confusing. It’s possible that you may be on the autism spectrum.
Assessment and Diagnosis in Children and Adolescents (up to 17)
If a child with a developmental delay is suspected of being on the autism spectrum, an assessment is made by a team of professionals experienced in the field.
The team will be made up of a paediatrician (or child and adolescent psychiatrist), a psychologist and a speech pathologist. Between them they will carry out a wide-ranging series of assessments over several appointments, with the members of a “multi-disciplinary” assessment team.
Once the assessment has been completed, the team will decide if your child meets the criteria for a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and a diagnosis will be made.
Diagnosis is usually made from the age of about 18 months onwards. Sometimes a provisional diagnosis is made when the child is very young and is reassessed at a later date.
There are a number of government-funded teams that specialise in the assessment and diagnosis of autism. Parents can contact these teams directly, but you may need a referral from your GP or paediatrician. Contact the team closest to where you live.
There are also private practitioners and teams who conduct assessments on a fee-paying basis.
After the Child’s Diagnosis
Once a diagnosis is made, the parents will receive a copy of the assessment report. This report is used to plan a program for the child in consultation with parents and service providers.
The assessment report is also used by government agencies, schools, respite care and other services to determine eligibility for funding or other support.
It is important to remember that a diagnosis will not change who your child is. A diagnosis can be useful, however, to help inform families, professionals, child care workers, teachers and other people involved in the child’s care or learning about what strategies, interventions, or supports have been shown to be effective with other children with similar difficulties.
It is important to note that a diagnosis can inform developmental, educational and social outcomes at any age, no matter when the individual is diagnosed.
Assessment and Diagnosis and Adults
You may have read or seen something about Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome and said “That’s me!”, or you may be the parent, partner or friend of an adult whom you think may be on the autism spectrum. You are not alone. Because of our improved knowledge and understanding of these conditions, a number of adults are now being diagnosed.
Some people in this position choose to see a professional for a diagnosis, while others prefer not to: this is up to the individual. The important thing is to learn as much as you can about the autism spectrum to help you understand that people on the spectrum can have a different view of the world around them, and might find socialising challenging.
Even a late diagnosis can still be a very important factor in enhancing functioning for the individual and in lending support to their family by providing an understanding of the nature of the challenges that the individual faces.
There are a few scenarios where an adult will seek assessment of being on the autism spectrum.
- The person may have been diagnosed with another disorder in childhood or adolescence such as an intellectual disability or a mental illness. A carer or clinician may observe characteristics consistent with the autism spectrum in the adult and recommend an assessment.
- The person may have struggled for many years with social situations and a feeling of “being different”. They or someone close to them, may hear something about Autism or Asperger Syndrome that encourages the person to investigate a diagnosis.
- Sometimes when a child receives a diagnosis and family members begin to learn more about it, other family members such as parents or grandparents might begin to identify with a number of qualities or characteristics associated with the autism spectrum. This can lead to them exploring a diagnosis for themselves.
There are currently no publicly funded adult assessment clinics in Victoria. For adults seeking an assessment, the best option is to consult a psychologist and/or psychiatrist with experienced in the assessment and diagnosis for autism. They will ask a lot of questions about your childhood, experiences at school and as an adult, and may do some psychological or psychiatric testing. This information will be used to help make a diagnosis. A speech pathologist could also be consulted to assess the individual’s social communication skills.
Receiving a Diagnosis of Autism
For some parents, receiving a diagnosis of their child can be an emotional event.
For other parents, a diagnosis may come as a relief, after a long period of not being sure why their child is different from other children of the same age.
For adults receiving a diagnosis, it can be reassuring to know why you feel the way you feel and to talk to others on the autism spectrum, or to join a group of similar people. There are books written by individuals on the autism spectrum that might be very helpful to you. You may find this section useful: Living with on the Autism Spectrum.
What is the Future?
Whilst autism is a lifelong condition without a cure, there are many things that can be done to assist individuals on the autism spectrum to lead a complete and fulfilling life.
There are many support groups around Victoria and Australia, set up by parents who do a wonderful job of providing shared experiences and support. Details of Support Groups can be found on the Resources page.
There are many therapies and interventions that can help those on the autism spectrum to make progress with social interaction and communication. With the right help and support, great outcomes can be achieved.
For children aged 0-6, some funding is available for these therapies. See early intervention.
For older children, adolescents and adults, whilst there is no specific government funding, the same therapies can be extremely beneficial and we encourage you to investigate them.
For adults, a diagnosis can often be very positive and helpful, providing reassurance about why they are “different” and allowing them to access support and assistance to improve their quality of life. See Adults on the Spectrum.
Sharing a Diagnosis
When it comes time to share a diagnosis with your child, and with family and friends, it can be difficult to know where to start. “How much should we tell our child’s school about their condition?” and “Do we have to tell anyone about the diagnosis?” are common questions. This is for the older individual or parents of younger children to decide: a detailed Information Sheet is available to help you determine the best course of action for you.
Where to get more help
To find out more about diagnosis and assessment or any aspect of autism, contact Amaze’s InfoLine on 1300 308 699.
Sharing the Diagnosis: what and how to tell children, siblings, family and friends about a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum.
Medicare Rebates: information about The Chronic Disease Management Plan, the Better Access to Mental Health Plan, the Helping Children with Autism Access to Diagnosis and Treatment
Information Sheets and Online Resources