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How is autism diagnosed?

 Written by Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist Christine Bosch.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects three main areas of an individual’s life: communication, social interaction and repetitive and restricted behaviours.  Approximately one in every 88 people has autism and, although the cause is unknown, genetic factors have been identified. But how is it diagnosed? 

The ‘gold standard’ in terms of diagnosing autism is a comprehensive assessment conducted by a paediatrician (children) or psychiatrist (adults), and a clinical psychologist and speech pathologist using the criteria outlined by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5).  All three medical professionals have to be in agreement with the findings of the assessment before the paediatrician/psychiatrist makes the final diagnosis. The diagnostic process involves a detailed observation of the individual’s behaviour as well as a detailed parent interview. An individual with autism may or may not also have a language impairment and/or intellectual disability.

If you are concerned that your child may be presenting with signs of autism, contact your paediatrician and they will make the appropriate referrals according to the findings of their initial assessment. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, an individual with autism is eligible for various services relating to school, therapy and assistance in the community depending upon the needs of the individual and the severity of the diagnosis.

Signs of autism can include:

  • Difficulty with the flow of conversation, including reverting conversations back to self- interests, difficulty listening, frequent interruptions or lack of engagement
  • Language difficulties such as speech delays or difficulty with abstract reasoning
  • Difficulty using and interpreting others’ body language, gestures and facial expressions
  • Problems with play including difficulties with imaginative and pretend play, as well as engaging in play routines with peers
  • Difficulty making and maintaining relationships with friends or significant others
  • Difficulty with processing sensory stimuli such as an oversensitivity to noise
  • Behaviours that are repetitive or ritualistic and the child has to complete that ritual before moving onto another task
  • Obsessive behaviours
  • Difficulty with making transitions
  • ‘Black and white’ thinking and an inflexibility regarding rules or routines

There is a significant body of evidence that suggests that early intervention is the best solution and leads to the best outcomes in terms of therapy. An appropriate diagnosis also means that a child can receive additional assistance at school as well as have access to community supports. 

For more information about how Therapy Focus can help with autism assessment visit www.therapyfocus.org.au/assessments.

Autism diagnostic assessment

If you are concerned that your child might be showing signs of autism, contact your paediatrician and they will guide you through the diagnostic process.