Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.
The symptoms will be present before the age of three but often a child will not get a diagnosis until in primary school and for some children not until secondary school.
Statistics show that around 1 in every 100 people in the UK has ASD, with more boys being diagnosed with the condition than girls.
People with ASD tend to have problems with social interaction and communication. The severity of these problems will vary depending on each child and some children will have high functioning autism (previously termed Asperger’s Syndrome). This is where the difficulties tend to be less severe and do not necessarily impact on a child’s learning. In fact, many young people with high functioning autism perform above average in school yet have few friends as their social interactions are seen as odd.
Children and young people with ASD frequently experience a range of cognitive (thinking), learning, emotional and behavioural problems. For example, they may also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, or depression.
For more information, the National Autistic Society has a fantastic website www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is.aspx for parents and professionals. They also have a helpline number.
There is also an organisation in High Barnet that offers assessments of sensory processing difficulties and sensory integration therapy for children with neurological conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. www.kidsinsynch.com
Because each child on the autistic spectrum presents with a different set of problems, a thorough assessment needs to be carried out by professionals trained specifically in assessing and diagnosing autism. This assessment will rule out learning difficulties and ADHD as the primary cause although, as stated above, they may be also present alongside ASD. Part of the assessment may involve input from a paediatrician or psychiatrist to ensure the assessment is Gold Standard and in line with NICE guidelines.
A meeting with the parents to gather a thorough developmental history.
A school observation or a conversation with teachers and the SENCO. This can be done prior to or after the assessment with your child.
The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) will then be carried out with your child. This is a semi-structured assessment of communication, social interaction, and play (or imaginative use of materials) for individuals suspected of having autism or other pervasive developmental disorders. This will take approximately 40 minutes to an hour.
An ADI-R will be carried out with one, or preferably both parents. This is a developmental and diagnostic interview. This will take approximately two hours.
A report will be written and a feedback session will be held with the parents and the child (depending on your child’s age).
There is no "cure" for ASD, but speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, educational support, plus a number of other interventions are available to help children and parents. Often a family may need the support of clinical psychologists to help reduce some of the behaviours that can present in a child with ASD.
Depending on the severity of the ASD, your child may be eligible for support from the local authority. It may be that we think a cognitive assessment will be needed. This is not usually the case but is helpful if there are identified learning needs.
We will signpost you to support in your local area. This will vary depending on where you live. Types of support include parents support groups and behavioural support. Unfortunately, some areas lack provision and it may be that you need to contact the NAS to get support or more information.