My child has been referred for an autism assessment, what should I expect?

If have noticed your child displaying signs of autism, you should speak to a professional.  This can include your GP, health visitor, a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) at school, or other professionals your child is working with. They may give you a referral for an autism assessment. This is what leads to a diagnosis if your child is autistic.

How can I get support while I wait?

There may be a delay between an autism assessment referral and your appointment. Here are some ways you can put some support in place before the assessment:

  • Arrange a meeting with the SENCo (special educational needs co-ordinator) or support staff at your child’s nursery, school or college. You can ask for a support plan or an IEP for your child.
  • Ask your health visitor or GP if there is any other support that they can refer you to. They may know some local organisations for you to contact.
  • Check the Autism Services Directory for any local support groups.
  • Think about your child’s needs. They may benefit from having a needs assessment. You can ask your local council about this.

Who's involved in an autism assessment?

Your child may need to meet with one or more professionals to complete the assessment. The professionals involved may include:

  • A behaviour support team.
  • A SENCo (special educational needs co-ordinator).
  • A GP, paediatrician, or health visitor.
  • A behavioural optometrist.
  • A clinical team.
  • A counsellor, psychotherapist or psychiatrist.
  • an educational psychologist.
  • An occupational therapist.
  • A dietician.
  • An outreach worker.
  • A social worker or care manager.
  • A speech and language therapist.

What happens during the autism assessment?

  • The assessor will ask you questions about your child. They will ask what’s made you or others think your child may have autism. Make sure you’re prepared with that information. Think about their speech and communication, their physical development and their behaviour, for example.
  • The professionals may watch your child during the assessment. They will be looking at your child’s behaviour and interactions with others.
  • They will look at any reports that your child’s GP, health visitor, nursery or school have written.
  • They may visit your child in their education setting.
  • Some assessments need a report from an educational psychologist. Your child’s school or nursery may be able to request this.

What happens after the assessment?

  • After the assessment, you will receive a report to tell you if your child is autistic.
  • The report might tell you that your child has autism. It may say something like your child “meets the criteria for autism spectrum diagnosis”. If so, it will give you an idea of the areas where your child needs extra help. Once you have a diagnosis, some more support will be available to you.
  • The report may tell you that your child is not autistic. It may say that they have a learning disability, but that it’s not autism. Or it may say that there’s not enough evidence at this stage to make a diagnosis. In that case, another assessment may be needed when they’re older.

What if I'm unhappy with the result?

Sometimes parents and carers aren’t happy with the result of their child’s autism assessment. It would be useful to talk to the team that made the assessment so that they can explain their reasons to you.

You may also want to return to your GP. You can ask them if they are able to re-refer for a further assessment. Or you can look into private assessments.

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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