Autism in children

Daniel Bullen, who has autism, photographed by Robin Hammond

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 and 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 your GP 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, multi-disciplinary teams (comprising different health professionals) may be involved in diagnosing autism. It's important to ensure that whoever sees your child has a good knowledge of autism.

Call the NAS Autism Helpline (0845 070 4004) 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 that 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's 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: 08/05/2016

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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Reasonable Man said on 17 October 2014

Can I strongly recommend that anyone who has a young child they suspect of having autism to not depend on any NHS service. Our son is now 3 and finally diagnosed privately as severely autistic. We raised our concerns at 18 months, and had been trying to get him assessed through the NHS since that time. When we finally managed to see the NHS paediatrician (which we had been told would be the final step to diagnosis), she told us that it would be another year or so! Early intervention is critical to improve outcomes for an autistic child. The NHS will not diagnose, let alone provide the expensive intervention required. Don't make the mistake we did and wait for the NHS, beg, borrow and steal to get that intervention from age 2!

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Dave0875 said on 26 November 2011

PAINTER it all sounds too familiar, we started over a year ago to get a diagnosis for our 4 year old Daughter (to her advantage we've caught her early or so we hope). We were hoping to get things sorted out ready for her starting school proper september just gone. After Ed Psych and the school/LEA effectively pulled the rug from under our feet by effectively DENYING there was anything wrong with our daughter other than that all encompasing throwaway phrase 'developmental delay'. After an assessment by NHS Speech & Language my daughter fulfilled 10 out of 12 criteria requirements for referral for ASD (6 criteria is minimal requirement). unfortunately in Hull there is a 2-3 year waiting list for the ASD panel. So local Education authority representatives are next to useless so in the NHS we (have to) trust. Can anyone provide any help/encouragement or is it a case of keep going and bide our time.

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alfieraysautismawareness said on 17 March 2011

Mate its not too late for your son.. there is good help out there simple a good learing program can help but difficult to find on NHS.. they seem to hate it.. we are off to USA to growing minds... do some fund raising and take your son there.These people are the best using whichever therapy helps with coming to terms. I feel you pain mate as far as LEA, NHS go but never give up hope it can be improved upon not cured.

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painter99 said on 11 April 2009

I would like to say that my son displayed difficulties from around age 3 when he was still not speaking. He required speech therapy although in my opinion did not receive this for long enough. He made very slow progress with speech development. He displayed many difficulties at school. I expressed my concerns and got a referral to a Child Paediatrician who only checked to see that my son could do his shoe laces up. Nobody would take my concerns seriously. It was mentioned very early on by a family member that my son might be autistic. A teacher raised concerns in Year 2, although this was the only teacher to do so in the entire educational career of my son. Jonah was viewed by his peers as difficult, odd, and not quite fitting in. Severe difficulties started at secondary transfer and my son was on the receiving end of severe sustained daily bullying. He found it impossible to follow lessons and never was invited to other people's homes, nor did he bring any friend home. I asked for my son to see an Educational Psychologist because I considered that my son needed Statementing, but she stated that his needs were not serious enough. I did not agree.
Health professionals were not able to see my son's difficulties which manifested mostly in behaviour and lack of understanding as well as being obsessional/ritualistic. I had to withdraw my son from school for his own safety and as a result he has no GCSE's. My son was only diagnosed by an NHS provider last year aged 17yrs. He has been completely let down and so have we all as a family. Even when he did receive diagnosis by a reputable NHS provider, they did not state that my son would be entitled to Disability Living Allowance and a Social Worker. Are these benefits withheld on purpose? Thousands of pounds go unclaimed apparently each year, but no-one told us to apply for the benefits until this year. The neglect is awful and I am now unable to proceed with my life in a normal way. My son has been neglected.

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