Who can diagnose autism? - Autism Awareness Australia (2023)

Who can diagnose autism?

Who can diagnose autism? - Autism Awareness Australia (1)

For a more detailed pathway through the diagnostic process click here to visit our dedicated resource Autism: What Next?

An Australian guideline for the diagnosis and assessment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) was published in 2018.

This aims to make autism assessment and diagnosis more consistent across the country.

The diagnostic evaluation may be conducted by:

Who can diagnose autism? - Autism Awareness Australia (2)

Commonly a multidisciplinary team will include a paediatrician (or child and adolescent psychiatrist), a psychologist and a speech pathologist, but other health professionals may provide input if required.

A single health professional may be able to diagnose a child with obvious signs of autism. A team approach is necessary for children with less clear symptoms or who have other conditions that make the diagnosis more complicated.

The guideline recommends the following steps to diagnosis:

  1. Assessment of function: a health professional will ask you and/or your child questions about their thinking and learning, speech and language, daily living skills, friendships and school. This will assess their abilities and any support needs they have and identify if they have any developmental delays.
  2. Medical assessment: a doctor will examine your child and conduct tests to see if there could be a medical cause for their developmental delays.
  3. Diagnostic assessment: this step is necessary only if doctors can’t find another cause for your child’s behaviour. You and your child will be interviewed and your child will be observed for signs of autism. You can read more about what’s involved here.

Where can we get a diagnosis?

Services vary from state to state and from city to rural locations. In the first instance it’s best to talk to your primary health care provider, usually your GP, who will be familiar with what’s available in your local area.

There are several state government-funded services that specialise in the assessment and diagnosis of autism.

These have the advantage of being free but are often in high demand, with waiting lists stretching to several months. Many services now need a referral letter from a paediatrician, although some may accept referrals directly from your GP.

In NSW, the Children’s Hospital Network and various NSW Health child development units provide public diagnostic services. Your GP or Paediatrician will be able to provide more information and refer you to your nearest location.

The Children’s Hospital Westmead

Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick

Royal North Shore Hospital – Child Development Service

Wyong Hospital’s Paediatric Assessment Unit

Central Coast Local Health District

Newcastle, Lake Macquarie & Port Stephens – Child Development Team

Campbelltown Hospital Child Assessment Team

Nepean Child Development Clinic

Orange, Bathurst and Dubbo Health Service Paediatric Services

Illawarra Shoalhaven Diagnostic and Assessment Service

Sydney Local Health District

In VIC, public diagnostic services are provided through The Royal Children’s Hospital Network and VIC Health Child and Adolescent Health services.

Your GP or Paediatrician will be able to provide more information and refer you to your nearest service.

In QLD, public diagnostic services are provided through Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service. Your GP or Paediatrician will be able to provide more information and refer you to your nearest service.

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In WA, public diagnostic services are provided through Western Australia Child and Adolescent Health Service. A referral can be made by parents, legal guardians or professionals.

The Autism Association of Western Australia provides autism assessments at no cost for eligible individuals aged 2-12 and 13-30 years. A GP, Consultant Psychiatrist, or Consultant Paediatrician referral is required.

In SA, The WCH Child Development Unit (CDU) provides developmental assessment service for children at these assessment units:

Women’s and Children’s Hospital – Child Development Unit: Phone 08 8161 7287

Flinders Medical Centre – Child Assessment Team: Phone 08 8204 4433

Lyell McEwin – Gordon McKay Child Development Unit: Phone 08 7485 4109

In NT, the Children’s Development Team provide developmental assessment and support for children and their families with screening services here.

Alice Springs: (08) 8951 6720

Darwin (Casuarina): (08) 8922 7283

See your GP or child nurse for an assessment referral.

The Child Development Service is a Canberra based service that provides residents in the ACT with free Autism assessments for children aged 0-12. A referral from a Paediatrician or Psychiatrist is required.

Tasmanian Autism Diagnostic Service (TADS) provides fee free diagnostic services. The assessment service is provided for people across Tasmania under 18 years of age. Referrals are accepted from a paediatrician, child/adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist.

(Video) What are you doing? A film about autism - Full Film

St Giles Developmental Assessment Team (DAT) – fully funded multidisciplinary assessment services for preschool-aged children only.

There are also private health professionals and teams who conduct assessments on a fee-paying basis. If you can afford this option, this is usually the fastest way to get a diagnosis.

For children aged 13 years or under, Medicare rebates are available to help cover at least some of the cost. These Medicare items cover:

  • assessment and diagnosis by a paediatrician or child and adolescent psychiatrist
  • up to 4 allied health professional assessments to assist with the diagnosis. (Eligible allied include psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, audiologists, optometrists, orthoptists or physiotherapists)

If you have private health insurance ‘extras’ cover it’s worth checking if this can help cover the cost of autism assessments too.

Some state autism associations offer multidisciplinary assessments (at a cost). You will need a doctor’s referral for these. Other state associations will be able to direct you to assessment services in your local region.

For children who live in rural and remote locations options are more limited, but thanks to modern technology things are improving. Some government services, state autism associations and organisations like Royal Far West offer telehealth services where families can consult with health experts over a secure video link.

Royal Far West also offers a residential multidisciplinary assessment program for children who live in regional and remote NSW. For localised services like these please check in with Autism Connect.

*but could also be a nurse, allied health professional or an Aboriginal health worker.

Health professionals your child may see during the assessment process

  • Paediatrician — a medical doctor with special training and skills in children and their diseases. A developmental paediatrician specialises in child development and behaviour.
  • Child and adolescent psychiatrist — a medical doctor with special training in treating children and teenagers with mental illness.
  • Psychologists — an allied health professional trained to assess and treat mental health and behavioural problems.
  • Speech pathologist — an allied health professional who assesses and treats speech, language and communication disorders.
  • Occupational therapist (OT) — an allied health professional trained to assess and support people with physical, sensory, or cognitive (thinking) problems and help them regain their independence.
  • Social worker — An allied health professional trained to assist people and families manage difficulties. This could be through a combination of counselling and practical support.

What to do while you’re waiting for an assessment

It can be a stressful time waiting for your child’s autism assessment. The good news is your child doesn’t need a formal autism diagnosis to access support.

The NDIS’s Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) approach is available to all children aged under 7 who have been identified with a developmental delay or disability.

The first step is to meet with an NDIS Early Childhood Partner to discuss your child’s needs. They can give you information about the supports and services available in your local community, provide some short-term early intervention support where appropriate, and request access into the NDIS if this is required.

You could also attend an Early Days workshop. These are free workshops for parents and carers of young children with autism but are also suitable for parents whose children have not yet received a diagnosis.

Who can diagnose autism? - Autism Awareness Australia (3)

For a more detailed pathway through the diagnostic process click here to visit our dedicated resource Autism: What Next?

Getting a diagnosis when your child is already at school

While autism is a condition of early childhood, some children will not be diagnosed until they reach school or even in some cases, high school.

In most cases these children and young people have less pronounced symptoms of autism. They may speak well and have no obvious learning problems. Some may even be considered gifted and talented because of their wide vocabularies and mature interests.

Other children may be from different cultures and backgrounds where autism is less well recognised.

Only when these children reach school and start mixing with teaching staff and other children do their social and educational challenges become clear.

Signs of autism in primary school aged children and teenagers

  • Talking too little or too much, with their speech dominated by their favourite topics
  • Talking in a monotonous tone and using unusual expressions
  • Talking ‘at’ others rather than having a two-way conversation; not good at ‘small talk’
  • Difficulty interpreting and using facial expressions and gestures
  • Being less aware of socially expected behaviour, for example criticising the teacher, or refusing to join in a classroom activity
  • Being easily overwhelmed in social situations and needing time alone
  • Not enjoying situations that most children like, such as school excursions
  • Trouble with co-operative play; wanting to play the same way every time
  • Having no or few friends
  • Sometimes displaying unusual physical movements, such as touching, biting, rocking or finger flicking
  • Having unusually intense interests
  • Having a strong need to follow rules and routines and becoming upset when these change
  • Being over or under-sensitive to sensory stimuli (e.g. textures, sounds, smells, taste)
  • Sometimes displaying aggressive behaviour to avoid stressful situations
  • Anxiety is common, especially in adolescence.

Problems with learning can also become apparent. Children may have uneven mix of skills, being advanced in maths and/or reading but having poor motor skills. This may mean they struggle with handwriting and sports. As schoolwork becomes more challenging they may have trouble keeping up with the workload.

All these things added together can make school a hard time.

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Gender differences

While autism is more common in boys, we now recognise that autism can get overlooked in girls. This is especially true for girls with normal or high intelligence.

This is because girls are better at camouflaging their problems, by imitating other people when they’re socialising. Unfortunately, this can be exhausting. Their restricted interests often don’t stand out as unusual too (e.g. celebrities, pop music, fashion, horses, pets, and literature)

Girls with autism may only have one or few close friendships and be intense and possessive about those friendships. By high school they may become victims of bullying.

How autism is diagnosed in school-aged children and teenagers

  • It’s common for children with autism to act differently at school than they do at home. For parents of first or only children, their behaviour at school may be the first real sign there’s a problem.
  • You may notice your child is unhappy at school or has few friends.
  • Alternatively, a teacher or a school counsellor may be the first person to raise concerns regarding your child’s development. Teachers are not qualified to diagnose autism but are qualified to observe children and know when a child is not behaving in a typical fashion.
  • Your child’s school may recommend your child undergoes a diagnostic assessment. Try to look at this as a way to identify your child’s strengths and difficulties and any supports they may need in the classroom.
  • It’s best to work positively with the school as this will bring the best outcome for your child. The school should always treat you and your child with respect too.
  • While an assessment may turn up autism, it could as easily turn up other treatable issues, such as speech delays or hearing problems
  • The school may offer to arrange a diagnostic assessment or you could organise this yourself. Talk to your GP about options.

Undergoing a diagnostic assessment

The process for getting a diagnosis when your child is school-age is similar to the process for a younger child. You can read about this here.

Some differences may include:

Who can diagnose autism? - Autism Awareness Australia (4)

School-aged children are more likely to be involved in the assessment process; older children and adolescents may need to provide consent

Who can diagnose autism? - Autism Awareness Australia (5)

The professionals might visit the school to observe how your child interacts with the other children there

Who can diagnose autism? - Autism Awareness Australia (6)

They’ll also ask your child’s teacher to complete a questionnaire so they can get a picture of your child’s behaviour in and outside the classroom

Receiving the news

Discuss with the assessment team how you would like the diagnosis communicated. Depending on your child’s age and maturity they may or may not wish to be present at the meeting.

An autism diagnosis can provoke many emotions. You may be concerned about negative stigma and the reaction of family and friends. Or else you could feel relief that you finally have an explanation for your child’s difficulties.

A diagnosis is important, as it leads to funding and interventions to help both your child and your family. It can often lead to greater understanding and inclusion at school.

Your reaction to the diagnosis will influence your child’s reaction. If and when you plan to tell them, wait for a time when you feel calm and in control.

As your child grows, learning about their own diagnosis can lead to having a better understanding of who they are. It can also open the door to a community of other people on the autism spectrum.

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(Video) What is autism?


Who can administer ADOS Australia? ›

Some examples of clinicians who make use of the ADOS-2 in their daily work are clinical and school psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists. Trainees must have completed the ADOS or ADOS-2 Introduction Training in person prior to attending the ADOS-2 Advanced Training. 3.

Can GP diagnose autism? ›

Your GP will make a referral to a diagnostic team to assess your child. If your child is already in school it is helpful to talk to the school's special education needs co-ordinator (SENCO). The diagnostic team usually consists of a psychiatrist, psychologist and speech and language therapist.

Who can best diagnose autism? ›

Developmental pediatricians are medical doctors who possess the training and experience to diagnose autism and other developmental difficulties. These professionals consider the medical and psychosocial elements of children's behavior problems and provide counsel and treatment accordingly.

Can psychologist diagnose autism Australia? ›

Assessments can be conducted by a psychologist, or by a psychiatrist, with experience in assessing autism. Both will conduct some form of standardised testing for autism and other conditions, such as ADHD or mood disorders, and provide you with a report.

Can a social worker diagnose autism? ›

Professionals such as teachers, therapists, and counselors can recommend a screening, but that can not officially diagnose. An autism specialist refers to the DSM-5, a mental and neurological disorder guideline where certain criteria must be met for a diagnosis in children and adults.

Do you have to be certified to give the ADOS? ›

Q: Who may administer the ADOS-2? ADOS-2 users should have prior education, training and experience in conducting individually administered test batteries and should have a background and experience in the assessment of ASD.

Who can carry out ADOS assessment? ›

Who can use and administer the ADOS-2? Anyone with a master's degree in psychology, school counseling, occupational therapy, speech–language therapy, social work, education, special education, or related field.

Who is qualified to administer the ADOS? ›

Anyone with a master's degree (MA, MS, MSW, CAGS) in psychology, school counseling, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, social work, education, special education, or a related field can administer the ADOS-2 if properly trained.

Do you need GP referral for autism assessment? ›

How to get an autism assessment. You need to be referred for an assessment by someone such as a GP or special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) staff at your child's school. You may have to wait a few months to get an appointment.

How do you officially get diagnosed with autism? ›

Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult because there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorder. Doctors look at the child's developmental history and behavior to make a diagnosis. ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months of age or younger.

How do you get checked if you are autistic? ›

How to get diagnosed
  1. Talk to someone for advice. If you or your child have signs of autism, the next step is to talk to someone about it. You could speak to: a GP. ...
  2. Have an autism assessment. An autism assessment is where a team of autism specialists check if you or your child are autistic. An assessment team may:

Who is best to diagnose autism in adults? ›

But if you can't find one (especially if you live in a more rural area with fewer healthcare providers), Dr. Ferrari recommends reaching out to a pediatric psychiatrist or psychologist to ask if they're comfortable assessing for and diagnosing ASD in adults.

Can an educational psychologist diagnose autism? ›

Educational Psychologists cannot make a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders themselves, but they can support children with Autism with any mental health issues that they may be experiencing and help them to access their learning.

Who can diagnose autism spectrum in adults? ›

A psychiatrist is a doctor and is qualified to make an official medical diagnosis of ASD. There are some psychiatrists that even specialize in ASD. Licensed psychologists (PhD) are also qualified to make these diagnoses, and may be more affordable in some areas.

How much does an autism assessment cost Australia? ›

An ADOS-2 Assessment and report costs $600 – $800 + GST. A Full assessment which includes, screening, cognitive assessment, ADOS-2, Developmental interview and observational assessment costs $1100 + GST. An assessment may also require a speech pathologist and /or paediatrician report.

Can an occupational therapist diagnose autism? ›

Can occupational therapists diagnose Autism? Within the occupational therapy scope of practice, Occupational therapists cannot diagnose Autism. Please speak with your pediatrician if you believe your child has Autism or would like your child to be tested for Autism.

Can a speech therapist diagnose autism? ›

Early identification of autism

As a result, speech-language pathologist are often among the first clinicians to work with a child who has undiagnosed autism and can be a key part of the multi-disciplinary team that makes the diagnosis.

How do I become ADOS trained? ›

ADOS2 Live Courses Online

ADOS2 ADMINISTRATION AND CODING Courses take place over 4 days for Modules 1 to 4. Trainees will become familiar with the administration and coding of each of these modules through watching and coding videos of the ADOS, and through discussion with our highly experienced, expert trainers.

How much does an ADOS assessment cost? ›

How much does it cost? Diagnostic assessments cost £375 (for SpLD), and well over £1000 (for autism). However, we ask students to contribute a payment of £95 only. Once payment has been received, we will contact you to offer you an appointment for an assessment.

What certifications do you need to work with autism? ›

How to Become a Certified Autism Specialist
  • Earn a Qualifying Bachelor's or Master's Degree and Gain the Required Experience. ...
  • Complete CE Specialty Training. ...
  • Pay the Required Fees and Submit Your Application. ...
  • Taking the Autism Competency Exam: What to Expect.

Can one person administer the ADOS? ›

Only trained professionals can administer the ADOS diagnostic screening, but it eliminates some of the differences of opinion otherwise possible when two different experts provide a diagnosis without following common guidelines.

Can autism be diagnosed without ADOS? ›

There is no test that can make the diagnosis without the skilled clinical judgment of the evaluator. However, the ADOS is often a very helpful tool during the direct observation part of the evaluation. Some in the field of ASD consider it essential.

How long does it take to get an ASD assessment? ›

Arranging an autism assessment

If you are referred for an assessment, it should start within 3 months and be done by a team of people who are specialists in autism.

Can a speech pathologist administer the ADOS? ›

Individuals who can administer the ADOS-2 are clinical and school psychologists, psychiatrists, developmental pediatrician, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists that have prior education, training, and experience in conducting individually administered test batteries and, training by an independent trainer ...

Can a neurologist diagnose autism? ›

Neurologists: Neurologists can play a role in diagnosing autism by ruling out neurological disorders that may be causing the symptoms of autism. They perform neurological testing and developmental motor tests. Autism—its cause as well as its treatment—is still not clearly understood.

How long does it take to administer the ADOS? ›

The assessment usually takes 40 - 60 minutes to complete. The examiner scores the ADOS-2 based on observations noted during the session on several aspects of social behavior. The score on the ADOS-2 indicates whether or not the individual's presentation is consistent with a diagnosis of an ASD.

What do doctors look for when diagnosing autism? ›

Tests for autism look at how the child plays, behaves, and communicates. Testing for autism also involves interviews with adults in the child's life. ADOS is a test that is used to evaluate the behavior and social skills of children who may have autism. ADOS stands for Autism Diagnostic Evaluation Schedule.

Can you diagnose autism without testing? ›

There are no medical tests, such as blood work or brain scans, for diagnosing Autism. An accurate medical diagnosis must be based on observation of the individual's communication, social interaction, and their activities and interests.

What are the 3 main symptoms of autism? ›

Main signs of autism

finding it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling. getting very anxious about social situations. finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on your own.

What are the 5 main symptoms of autism? ›

Social Communication and Interaction Skills
  • Avoids or does not keep eye contact.
  • Does not respond to name by 9 months of age.
  • Does not show facial expressions like happy, sad, angry, and surprised by 9 months of age.
  • Does not play simple interactive games like pat-a-cake by 12 months of age.

Can you be slightly autistic? ›

Autism is a significant developmental disorder that is usually diagnosed in very young children. 1 While it is possible to be mildly autistic, it takes more than a few quirks to earn the diagnosis.

Why is it hard to diagnose autism in adults? ›

The biggest issue stems from the diagnostic criteria for autism from the DSM-5. Criteria C states: "Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities or may be masked by learned strategies in later life)."

What does high functioning autism look like in adults? ›

Difficulty Communicating and Awkward Communication

– Difficulty reading social cues and participating in conversations. – Difficulty empathizing with other people's thoughts and feelings. – Struggling to read people's body language or facial expressions.

How do I get my child evaluated for autism? ›

You should speak with your child's healthcare provider about getting a full evaluation from a qualified medical specialist such as a neurologist, behavior pediatrician, or psychiatrist, who can provide a diagnosis.

What can be mistaken for autism in adults? ›

The following disorders share many of the same symptoms as autism, which may result in a misdiagnosis:
  • ADHD. ...
  • Avoidant personality disorder, social anxiety disorder, shyness. ...
  • OCD. ...
  • Schizophrenia spectrum disorders. ...
  • Eating disorders. ...
  • Personality disorders. ...
  • Mood disorders. ...
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
29 Apr 2022

Can you self diagnose autism in adults? ›

The only way to know for sure whether you are autistic is to get a formal diagnosis.

How do you get officially diagnosed with autism? ›

The Social Communication Questionnaire, Autism Spectrum Quotient, Adaptive Behavior Questionnaire, Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R), and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2 (ADOS) are commonly used. The latter two are the most comprehensive measures available.

How long does it take to get an autism diagnosis in Australia? ›

Getting a Diagnosis

Please note: Aspect's waitlist for an autism assessment is currently a minimum of 12 months.

How much does an autism test cost Australia? ›

An ADOS-2 Assessment and report costs $600 – $800 + GST. A Full assessment which includes, screening, cognitive assessment, ADOS-2, Developmental interview and observational assessment costs $1100 + GST. An assessment may also require a speech pathologist and /or paediatrician report.

Do you need an official autism diagnosis? ›

It is so important to diagnose autism, as without a diagnosis this can make so many areas of life difficult, distressing and bewildering for the undiagnosed person. This can result in difficult behaviours, social isolation and young people who do not attain their best in school.

Can a educational psychologist diagnose autism? ›

Educational Psychologists cannot make a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders themselves, but they can support children with Autism with any mental health issues that they may be experiencing and help them to access their learning.

Do you need a medical diagnosis for autism? ›

A medical diagnosis of autism is required for private based ABA therapy, such as at PediaPlex, as well as for insurance purposes. A school-based assessment is typically completed by a multidisciplinary team of professionals at the school and is used to determine educational eligibility for services.

Why is it so hard to get a diagnosis for autism? ›

Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult because there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorder. Doctors look at the child's developmental history and behavior to make a diagnosis. ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months of age or younger.

Are autism assessments covered by Medicare? ›

For children who have, or are suspected of having, an autism spectrum disorder. Under the government funded Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) initiative Medicare rebates are available for assessment and treatment services for children and young people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Does NDIS cover autism assessment? ›

With a Level 2 or Level 3 Autism diagnosis, the NDIS provides automatic access with no more assessments required. However, with a Level 1 diagnosis, this is not the case, and additional evidence is required.

What is required for an ASD diagnosis to be made in Australia? ›

You must have lasting difficulties in social communication and social interaction in multiple situations to be diagnosed with ASD. You must also have restricted interests and activities and repetitive patterns of behaviour. These symptoms must have been evident from early life, and must significantly affect your life.

How long does it take to get a autism diagnosis? ›

If you are referred for an assessment, it should start within 3 months and be done by a team of people who are specialists in autism.

How do I ask for an autism assessment? ›

Explain your situation. You could say that you've been reading about autism, or that you've been in touch with the National Autistic Society. You could say that you think you experience some of the difficulties autistic people can face, and you would like to seek a formal assessment to be sure.


1. Australian breakthrough could diagnose children with autism earlier | Nine News Australia
(9 News Australia)
2. First steps towards getting a diagnosis
(Autism Awareness Australia)
3. Today Show - Autism awareness
(Autism Spectrum Australia)
4. National Guideline for Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Australia
5. What are you doing? - a film about autism (film trailer)
(Autism Awareness Australia)
6. a different brilliant - Autism Spectrum Australia
(Autism Spectrum Australia)
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