Getting diagnosed - Autism

If you're concerned that your child or adult friend or family member may have autism, the only way to be sure is to get a diagnosis.

Getting a diagnosis involves a detailed assessment. This should be done by either:

  • a specialist autism team (if available in your area)
  • a healthcare professional who specialises in diagnosing autism

Although there are several online autism tests available, the results may not be recognised by your local council.

This means support for education and social care needs may not be offered.

Diagnosing autism in children

See a GP or health visitor if your child is showing signs of autism or you're worried about their development.

If your child is at school, you can also contact the school's special education needs coordinator (SENCO) for advice.

If appropriate, the GP can refer you to a healthcare professional or a team of specialists experienced in diagnosing autism.

Autism is sometimes called autism spectrum disorder or ASD.

The specialist or specialist team will make a more in-depth assessment, which should be started within 3 months of the referral, though this can take longer in some areas.

If you're referred to an individual specialist, they may be a:

  • psychologist – a healthcare professional with a psychology degree, plus further training and qualifications in psychology
  • psychiatrist – a medically qualified doctor with further training in psychiatry
  • paediatrician – a doctor who specialises in treating children
  • speech and language therapist – a specialist in recognising and treating communication problems

Assessment of autism in children

A diagnosis of autism is based on the range of signs and characteristics your child is showing.

For most children:

  • information will be needed from your GP, nursery or school staff, plus speech and language and occupational therapists, about your child's development, health and behaviour
  • a speech and language therapist, and often an occupational therapist, will carry out an assessment
  • a detailed physical examination will need to be carried out to rule out possible physical causes of your child's symptoms, such as an underlying condition like neurofibromatosis or Down's syndrome
  • the assessment will include a check for any other physical health conditions and mental health problems

In addition, for some children:

  • you may be asked to go to a series of interviews so a detailed family history and the history of your child's development and behaviour can be drawn up
  • your child may be asked to attend a series of appointments so specific skills and activities can be observed and assessed

Once this process is complete, a diagnosis of autism may be confirmed.

Assessment of autism in older children

Sometimes the first signs that a young person may be autistic is when big changes are happening, such as:

  • changing schools
  • going to university
  • starting work

If you think you, or a young person in your family, is showing signs of being autistic, contact the GP or an occupational therapist.

The referral and assessment process is the same as for young children. If autism is diagnosed, support can be put in place.

Find out more about the signs of autism in children

After diagnosis

When a child or young person is diagnosed with autism, many parents are keen to find out as much as they can about the condition.

The National Autistic Society has information and advice.

It can also help to join an autism forum, such as the National Autistic Society's Community or local autism group.

Call the National Autistic Society helpline on 0808 800 4104 for details of local groups. Or search the Autism Services Directory.

Remember that comments on forums or other social media are often based on personal experience and should not be taken as medical advice.

Always check with your autism team before changing how you support your autistic child.

Diagnosing autism in adults

Some autistic people grow up without their condition being recognised, but it's never too late to get a diagnosis.

Some people may be scared of being diagnosed because they feel it'll "label" them and affect how other people think of them.

But there are several advantages to getting a diagnosis. It helps:

  • people with the condition and their families understand autism (including Asperger syndrome)
  • decide what sort of support they need
  • get access to autism-specific services and claim benefits

See a GP if you think you may be autistic and ask them to refer you to a specialist autism team, if available in your area.

Alternatively, ask to be referred to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

Some GPs may not be familiar with autism in adults and be reluctant to refer you to an specialist autism team or assessment centre. But it's worth persevering.

If you're already seeing a specialist doctor for other reasons, ask them for a referral instead.

The National Autistic Society website has information about being diagnosed with autism if you're an adult.

Assessment of autism in adults

The signs and features of autism vary widely from person to person.

For adults to be diagnosed with autism, the specialists may ask you about:

  • how you behave in social situations
  • your childhood
  • life at home, college or work

Find out how to get assessed and the assessment process

After diagnosis

You may have a lot of questions after being diagnosed with autism as an adult. There's a lot of useful information and advice on the National Autistic Society website.

You can also call the National Autistic Society helpline on 0808 800 4104.

Find out more about the support available for autistic adults

Find out what local councils and NHS services should be doing to meet the needs of autistic people under the Autism Act and the Autism Strategy.

Other health conditions

Some health problems or conditions are more common in autistic people. You might receive a diagnosis of these at the same time.

Conditions associated with autism include:

Page last reviewed: 04/02/2019
Next review due: 04/02/2022