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  • Writer's pictureDolphin Tribe

Guide to autism assessment and diagnosis

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects how individuals interpret the world. For the one in 150 Australians with autism, social interaction, communication, and emotional regulation can be a challenge.

Assessing and diagnosing autism is complicated and needs to be carried out by highly skilled and experienced professionals. A diagnosis is a necessary step so you and your family can learn to not just live with autism, but to thrive.

Here’s what you need to know about autism assessment and diagnosis in Sydney, NSW.

Signs of autism spectrum disorders in children and teens

As a parent, you might notice an unusual behaviour and wonder if it is a sign of autism. In primary school children and teenagers, this might look like:

  • Talking too much, not enough, or only about one topic.

  • Struggling to keep up with conversations, or not understanding, or not using facial expressions and gestures.

  • Repetitive hand motions, biting, or rocking at a young age. As they get older, this could turn into aggression or anxiety during times of stress.

  • Feeling overwhelmed socially; limited and intense interests; being either over- or under-sensitive to sensory stimuli; and a rigid desire to stick to a routine are all potential signs of autism.

You might be nodding along to all of this, or perhaps only a few of these behaviours sound familiar. That’s because autism exists on a spectrum - it varies hugely from one person to the next, and that is what makes following the correct autism assessment and diagnosis pathways so important.

Two pathways to autism assessment

A diagnostician

A diagnostician is a single medical clinician with expertise in autism diagnosis. This may be a paediatrician, child psychiatrist or psychologist, or less frequently a neurologist. A diagnostician is particularly useful for children with obvious autism traits. The clinician draws on reports and observations from a variety of people in the child’s life to gain a full picture of how the child participates in their home and community settings.

A multidisciplinary team

This is a team of medical or allied health professionals who work together to agree on an autism diagnosis. A multidisciplinary team is useful for less clear-cut cases and is common in public sector diagnosis. This team often includes a child psychologist or psychiatrist as well as a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, and paediatrician.

How to diagnose autism

At Dolphin Tribe, autism assessment in children is carried out by a child psychiatrist and/or psychologist and it includes three key steps:

  1. Discussing your child’s development, abilities, and challenges with parents or caregivers.

  2. Reading reports from your child’s GP or paediatrician, and their school or nursery.

  3. Observing your child while playing and interacting with others.

During our assessment, we use the following evidence-based assessment tools, tailoring our techniques to the age and needs of each individual:

1. Autism Diagnostic Observation Assessment (ADOS-2)

Here we put the child front and centre, observing them either in an interview session or a semi-structured play session, depending on their age and communication abilities.

2. Autism diagnostic interviews with parents or carers (ADI-R)

This is when we speak with people in your child’s life – parents, caregivers, family members, teachers, and other people close to your child – to help us paint a picture of your child’s developmental history.

3. When necessary and appropriate, we will also carry out additional adaptive behaviour assessments and cognitive (IQ) assessments.

This is the gold standard when it comes to autism assessment in Sydney, NSW, and it is the approach our highly trained child psychologists and psychiatrists follow.

How much does an autism test cost?

A complete autism assessment can cost anywhere from approximately $2,000 to $3,500. This fee depends on a number of factors including the patient’s age, any clinical records from paediatricians and/or psychiatrists, as well as previously completed assessments. When you send a referral to Dolphin Tribe, we can give you a better idea of what to expect.

Why a formal autism diagnosis is beneficial

If your child is on the autism spectrum, a formal diagnosis is invaluable. Early diagnosis leads to early intervention, helping children with autism develop the skills they need to thrive in a world that often feels at odds with their brain’s makeup. A diagnosis may also open the door to funding, as well as a supportive community of other families affected by autism.

Unfortunately, there is still stigma attached to an autism diagnosis and this is something we are actively trying to change in Australia. Often, the fear of diagnosis is the hardest part; once you have a formal diagnosis, you may feel relieved and can move towards gaining the help and support you need.

What happens after an autism diagnosis?

It’s important to take your time processing your child’s autism diagnosis, and then share the diagnosis with your child and family in a calm manner. Then, you can begin to seek financial support, therapies, and early intervention programmes.

Adult autism diagnosis

For undiagnosed adults who display signs of autism spectrum disorders, a diagnosis can be greatly beneficial. It can help you access support programmes and therapies, and a diagnosis can also be hugely validating, making sense of past experiences and behaviours.

If you think you may have autism, the first step is to ask your GP for a referral to see a psychiatrist. Our adult assessment typically includes:

  • A discussion about the challenges you face

  • Questionnaire

  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Assessment (ADOS-2)

  • Input from people in your life (such as family, friends, paediatrician, GP, teachers, and workmates) who can give us more insight into how you interact with others.

If you suspect autism in yourself or your child, the psychiatrists and psychologists at Dolphin Tribe are here to help. We offer private autism assessment for both children and adults in our Sydney, NSW clinic.

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