It can be stressful and worrying for parents to learn that their child has autism. But the earlier a diagnosis is made, the sooner the best support and treatments are put in place to get the best outcome for your child.
A diagnosis is usually made by a qualified specialist, such as a paediatrician, or via a comprehensive assessment performed by a team of specialists. This may include a paediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist and sometimes a speech pathologist. The specialists will meet and watch the child to assess his or her communication skills, ability to interact socially and general behaviours.
Clinicians use a set of standard tests to make a diagnosis. They will see if the child has certain behaviours and social responses.
The umbrella term ‘autism spectrum disorder’ (ASD) now describes all levels of autism, from those individuals requiring support (level 1), those requiring substantial support (level 2) and those more severely affected and requiring very substantial support (level 3).
Children can usually be diagnosed at around two, but sometimes symptoms are subtle and children are not diagnosed until they start school or even until they become adults.
If your child is diagnosed with autism, you will be guided through the various treatment options. There are education programs and support services, from a number of organisations such as Autism Spectrum Australia, available for children with autism and their parents or caregivers.
Personal stories - video
Last reviewed: September 2018