Autism in children

Autism can normally be diagnosed in children at around the age of two.

In many cases, professional health workers may spot the signs of autism during normal childhood health checks, and this may lead to the child being formally diagnosed.

If you think your child may have autism, ask your GP to refer them to a consultant or diagnostic team with a good understanding of the condition.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) is the leading UK charity for people with autism. It offers advice and support for those with their condition, and their loved ones.

I'm struggling to get a referral for my child

If you're finding it difficult to get a referral for your child, being assertive and persistent can help. The following tips may also be useful: 

  • Before your appointment, prepare notes on what you want to say to your GP.
  • Keep a diary to record any unusual behaviour by your child and how often it happens.
  • Give your GP some information on autism from the NAS, or encourage them to contact the society's information centre (0845 070 4004 or email info@nas.org.uk) if they have any questions about the condition.
  • If there is more than one GP at your practice, ask to see another doctor for a second opinion.

Should my child see a particular kind of doctor or autism specialist?

There can be many different doctors and health professionals involved in diagnosing autism. These are usually psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and, for children, paediatricians.

In some cases, multidisciplinary teams comprising different health professionals may be involved in diagnosing autism. It's important to ensure whoever sees your child has a good knowledge of autism.

Call the NAS Autism Helpline on 0808 800 4104 for a list of doctors and diagnostic teams who specialise in autism.

Does everybody with autism need to be diagnosed?

Many people with autism, and their families, benefit from having an official diagnosis.

Having an explanation for the problems a person may have experienced for many years can bring a sense of relief for both the person with autism and their parents, particularly those at the more able end of the spectrum. It can also help them get the most appropriate care and support.

Read more about why autism should be diagnosed

The NAS website has a range of diagnosis information and advice, which includes how to cope with a diagnosis and its effect on families.

Page last reviewed: 08/05/2014

Next review due: 31/08/2016

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