Diagnosing autism

This section discusses the various methods used to diagnose autism. This includes both adults and children and involves a series of tests to confirm or reject a diagnosis.

There are many people who go through life without being diagnosed with autism which is usually due to a lack of awareness about this disorder at that time.

But improvements in techniques used to diagnose this condition mean that it is easier to detect the symptoms and plan a series of interventions to deal with it.

Two categories of diagnosis

This section is split into the following:

Visit the section which is most appropriate for you.

Note: in the UK a child is classed as up to the age of 18. An adult is 18 and above.

One of the problems with obtaining a diagnosis of autism, especially in children, is that the symptoms are very similar to other conditions such as attention deficiency hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Plus autism is what is known as a ’spectrum disorder’which means that it is one of several conditions on a continuum which include Asperger’s Syndrome and Rett’s Syndrome. These are often referred to as pervasive developmental disorders and occur in the early years of childhood.

The effect of a diagnosis

Whatever methods are used to diagnose autism the fact remains that this has a profound impact on the family of the sufferer. The effects of autism are not just confined to a single person but affect their families and friends as well.

This can be a difficult issue to deal with. As a parent, it is hard to accept that your child has autism as this is a condition which you know very little about and are unsure how to cope with it.

What does this mean? How will this affect your child at school? What will happen in the future? For parents who have just received a diagnosis these are a few of the many thoughts going around the heads as they struggle to come to terms with this.

It is easy to see this in negative terms and look for something or someone to blame. But your child is still the same child albeit with a few ’differences’which can be managed. There is help and support available to you which will enable your child to live a normal life.

This is discussed in more detail in our treatment for autism and living with autism sections within this guide.

Is a diagnosis of autism a label?

A main worry for parents is that of how their child will be treated at school, work and society in general. They may view a diagnosis as a ’label’which marks their child out as being different and not worthy of the same consideration as a ’normal’child.

They fear that their child will be teased or bullied at school and will be unable to cope with this. Another worry is how will their autistic son or daughter manage at work? Will they be able to find a job especially in the present economic uncertainty? Will they be able to live independently or will they require lifelong specialist care?

It can be easier to view a diagnosis of autism as a medical description of a range of symptoms which are different but not inferior to the norm. Your child is not lesser than anyone else’s child but has a range of qualities which are distinctive and part of him/her.

Find out more in our diagnosing autism in children section.

What about adults with autism? If you are an adult who has been received an official diagnosis then it can come as a relief. This may sound surprising but many adults come to terms with this and feel that they now have a name to put to their condition. As a result of this they can take steps to manage their condition.

For those adults who have been diagnosed this means that they have a medical explanation for their behaviour. They may have been experiencing problems at work due to their erratic behaviour or felt out of step with the rest of the world.

They may felt estranged from their families or aware that they have problems with social skills or communicating with work colleagues, friends etc. This is, in a sense, a load off their mind as they can obtain help from social services, apply for benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or talk to others in the same situation via an autism support group.

A diagnosis means that they can share this with their families and friends who will be able to provide additional help and support.

Find out more in our diagnosing autism in adults section.

The importance of obtaining a diagnosis

Many people reach adulthood without ever being diagnosed with autism and manage to lead a normal life. But many others benefit from a professional diagnosis.

It is not always easy to obtain a diagnosis if you are an adult but doing so means that it opens up avenues of help and support to you. This includes techniques for dealing with everyday issues such as dealing with money, household tasks, using public transport, interacting with people and holding down a job.

There is a wide range of services available which help with these and other issues.

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