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As a family you may have concerns about your child’s development. You may notice signs of delay, changes in communication, behaviour or social skills.

Teachers or Health Visitors might also notice these changes. If worried about your child’s development, the first person to speak to is your GP or paediatrician. Diagnosis can also occur much later in life for some.

Who decides if my child needs a diagnosis?

A team of professionals will observe your child and ask you questions as a family. This will include observations of your child’s communication, social interaction and play across a range of settings including home, nursery or school. This will help them to understand your child’s level of need. The team may include:

  • Paediatrician
  • Education professional
  • Speech and Language Therapist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Educational Psychologist

How does a diagnosis happen?

The team will agree on a diagnosis of autism if a consensus is reached from observing your child. There may need to be a formal assessment to find out more information. These assessments provide a detailed understanding of areas of language, social interaction, play, imagination, behaviour and sensory need.

Diagnosis criteria for autism include deficits in use or understanding of social communication and social interaction as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities. There will need to be sufficient evidence of deficits in these areas for a diagnosis to be made. For more detail about the diagnosis criteria click here.

How long will a diagnosis take?

The length of time that it takes to receive a diagnosis varies across the country. Recent data published by the NHS in 2019 shows that it can take up to two years in some areas of the UK. However, you can seek a private diagnosis.

What does a diagnosis mean?

Autism is lifelong. So a diagnosis could help your child to access the best support for their needs. You will receive information on local services to better understand the diagnosis and support the family. A diagnosis of autism can help your child access further support within their educational setting. For example, by requesting an assessment for an  Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Diagnosis in adults

It is quite common for people to go through life without a diagnosis. For some people, getting a diagnosis helps them to understand difficulties they have as well as helping them get support at work or university.

The first step to getting a diagnosis is to visit your GP who may make a referral with a local diagnostic service. If your GP doesn’t make a referral you can ask for a further appointment or seek a second opinion.

Most adults will see a psychiatrist or psychologist as part of the assessment. You may be asked to bring an informant who knew you as a child such as a parent or sibling to help them understand your childhood.


To find out more about diagnosis, take a look at our free online introductory to autism course.

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