Diagnosing autism

Some definitions:

Diagnosis – finding out what the problem is by looking at the signs and symptoms (assessment)

Diagnosing team – the team responsible for the doing the autism assessments

Diagnostician – the person undertaking or responsible for the assessments

Paediatrician – a doctor who specialises in the medical care of infants, children and teenagers

Psychologist – assess and help people when there are troubles thinking, learning new skills and behaving

Speech Pathologist / Therapist – helps adults and children to communicate and can assess how a child’s communication is developing

Occupational Therapist (OT) - helps children and adults with moving, doing things for themselves and thinking; in an assessment they might look at development, play and self-help skills

Most children in Australia are diagnosed by a paediatrician, a psychologist or a team at a hospital or health centre. There are no blood tests or genetic tests that can tell whether a child is on the autism spectrum so the diagnosing team must find out as much as they can about the child’s behaviour across different settings. Most of the time, this is done by taking a history from parents that asks all about how the child is developing language and social skills as well as the type of behaviours seen at home and elsewhere. Often, they will ask other people involved in the child’s life about how the child behaves and copes at school or preschool. Speech Pathologists or Occupational Therapists might also provide information. The diagnostician will also observe the child, either in play or through formal assessment. If the child shows a range of behaviours known as ‘diagnostic criteria’, then a diagnosis of autism will be made.

The following link provides more information about the diagnostic criteria currently in use in Australia:

Fact Sheet - DSM5

If you have any questions about how your child was diagnosed, it is a good idea to contact the doctor, psychologist or team for more information.