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What to do if you think your child might be autistic

If you think your child might be autistic, getting a diagnosis can help both you and your child’s nursery or school better understand how to meet their needs and be a very positive step. However, it is your personal choice whether to pursue a diagnosis for your child.

If you’re unsure, it can be a good idea to ask for a referral for your child anyway, as you may have to wait a while for an appointment.

First of all, what is autism?

Autism is a spectrum, which means that everybody with autism is different. However, there are some common features of autism, including differences in how a person interacts and communicates with other people and experiences the world around them.

Autism is not a medical condition or something that needs to be ‘cured’, and it doesn’t have to stop you from having a good life. However, there are some things that autistic people may need more support with.

What are the signs of autism?

Children can be diagnosed with autism very young, in some cases from the age of two. Some of the main indications that your child may be on the autism spectrum are:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Not responding to their name
  • Not smiling when you smile at them
  • Not attempting to draw your attention to things, such as a toy or book
  • Not talking as much as other children
  • Repeating the same things over and over, such as phrases, activities, or movements (like flapping their hands, flicking their fingers, or rocking their body)
  • Getting very upset if they don’t like a certain taste, smell, or sound
  • Getting very upset in new situations or when things change

Who you can speak to

If you think your child might be autisc, you can talk to:

  • Your GP
  • Your health visitor
  • Your child’s nursery carers or school teachers
  • A special educational needs (SENCO) member of staff at your child’s nursery or school
  • Any other health professional that your child sees

Before you reach out to someone, it’s a good idea to ask those who know your child well, such as friends, family, or teachers, if they’ve noticed any possible signs of autism in your child. You could also make a list of the signs that you’ve noticed to go through with the person you’ve decided to speak to.

These people will not be able to tell you if your child has autism, but they will be able to advise you on the next steps. For example, if they agree that your child might be autistic, they can point you in the direction of autism specialists who can assess your child.

You may have to wait a while before your child’s autism assessment. In the meantime, you may want to refer your child to other specialist teams, such as speech and language therapy. You can also pay for a private autism assessment.

In an autism assessment, the specialist will ask about any problems your child is having, watch how your child interacts with other people, and speak to people who know your child well. At the end of the assessment, you’ll be given a report with the results.

To find more support in your area, visit the National Autistic Society directory.