Many parents have mixed feelings about the process of diagnosis, and everyone's experiences will be different.
It is often a daunting and very emotional time, and getting help from family, friends and professionals is a vital part of getting through the process.
It's also important to remember that, although there is no ‘cure' for autism, getting a diagnosis can be the first step towards making sure your son or daughter will get the support they need to make the most out of life.
What are the signs of autism?
While some of the signs of autism may become apparent in the first few years of a child's life, it may only be when they are at school, or even when they are an adult, that a diagnosis is made. Sometimes an autism diagnosis is delayed because health professionals want to be certain before they make a diagnosis - while in other cases it is because the signs of autism go undetected.
More boys than girls are diagnosed with autism, and there is an ongoing debate about whether this is for genetic reasons or because the process of diagnosis tends to pick up autistic traits more common in boys, and the possibility that this is leaving some girls undiagnosed.
She developed normally until around the age of 12-18 months. We noticed that she seemed to be a late developer in her speech and understanding, but thought little of it.
Mandy, Charlotte's mum
The signs of autism will be different for each individual, and some children may develop certain skills when they are younger which they will seem to lose or ‘forget' as they get older. These are some signs that other parents have noticed in their children, who went on to get a diagnosis of autism:
- a lack of responsiveness to noise and sounds
- late development of speech
- obsessional behaviour or an obsessive attachment to certain objects or toys
- a love of order or routines
- challenging behaviours, such as episodes of frustration or in some cases violent behaviour.
This is not a full list of signs of autism - if you have concerns about your child's behaviour, make sure you contact a health professional - find out more below.
How do I get a diagnosis?
If you think your son or daughter has autism, you should approach your GP or health visitor to talk about your concerns. You can also ask to be referred to the relevant healthcare professional who might be able to provide a diagnosis. This could be a psychologist or psychiatrist or, if your child is young, a paediatrician or Child Development Centre (CDC).
It's also a good idea to keep a diary of your child's behaviour, the habits you think may be a sign of autism, which you can show to any professionals you meet. As well as making a note of your child's behaviour, you might want to write down when it happened, what they were doing, the environment they were in at the time and anything notable that happened just before the event took place.
If your child is of school age, you might also want to speak to their teacher or to the school's special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) to ask for their advice and how to get the right support. Any other professionals working with your child, for example a speech and language therapist or educational psychologist, may also be a good source of advice.
Keep a diary, day to day for two weeks of happenings and see your GP. Be forthcoming and insist on a referral. You have to be prepared to fight the system. As a parent, you know your child, keep with your instincts.
You can find out more about getting a diagnosis of autism, and what to do if your GP refuses to refer you for a diagnosis, on the National Autistic Society website.
- The Down's Syndrome Association has information about a dual diagnosis of autism and Down's syndrome.