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Autism is a wide and varied condition, no two cases are the same. Each young person has their strengths and difficulties and these are very individual.
Young people may display the following characteristics -
- difficulty making friends, difficulty keeping friends
- struggle to communicate and control emotions
- advanced vocabulary for their age but difficulty with conversational skills
- fascination with specific topics which can be intense
- unusual profile of learning abilities
- they may need some help with organisational skills
- sensitive to sound, smells, textures or touch.
Why pursue a diagnosis?
Without a diagnosis, when appropriate, the child's behaviour can often be misunderstood. They may be seen as rude or oppositional, and be given consequences within the school or home setting. They may be excluded by their peer group who don't understand them. They can go on to develop negative thoughts about themselves and become socially withdrawn in order to manage these difficult feelings.
They may retreat into a rich fantasy world, become depressed, spend lots of energy mimicking others, and socially masking their difficulties at the expense of gaining their full potential within the education setting.
If a diagnosis is pursued, it can give clarity and validation for the young person in terms of the difficulties. It can help them identify which aspects of life they find the most difficult and receive targeted and focused help and support.
Diagnosis allows them to manage their expectations about what they feel comfortable with and be able to say no to things too.
Having a diagnosis can have a positive impact on other peoples'understanding, leading to acceptance and providing the right sort of help. The risk of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment can be avoided.
A young person who understands themselves better, is more effective with regards to decision-making about friendships, careers and relationships and is a better self advocate.
A diagnosis can also bring a sense of belonging when meeting other families and young people who share the diagnosis.
Most of the young people that I see describe a sense of relief at the time of diagnosis. They have often spent large periods of time on the internet looking up symptoms for bipolar, psychosis, OCD and other concerning mental health difficulties, trying to work out what's is going on. When they find something that makes sense it allows the right help to be put in place for them and its good to feel understood.
The diagnostic assessment has three components, performed after an initial assessment appointment.
ADOS autism diagnostic observation schedule this is a face-to-face one hour appointment conducted with a nurse or psychologist and the young person. This looks at their use of eye contact, social communication skills, gesture and imaginative play amongst other things.
3Di an extensive neuro developmental questionnaire completed by parents.
School questionnaire - to look at social communication issues and pick up difficulties within the school setting.
Taking all of this information together a diagnosis can be made when appropriate and recommendations made.
Further useful information can be found here Royal College of psychiatrists Autism leaflet