When it comes to the diagnosis of autism in children, many experts agree that it’s a matter of the earlier the better. If you’re a parent or carer and you’re considering getting a diagnosis, it’s important to know the facts.
Here we discuss the benefits of early diagnosis of autism, take a closer look at how to get such an assessment, and give tips on how to choose and navigate the seemingly endless treatments and therapies available.
First, what is autism and why would I get an assessment?
Autism is a developmental disability that presents in young children and can have wide-reaching effects on their life. Autism is known as a spectrum condition meaning everyone’s experience will be different and can be at varying levels of severity.
The effects of autism are different for everyone but usually include different ways of communicating – including through non-verbal communication, limited and sometimes repetitive behaviour patterns, and extreme or lower sensitivity to certain stimuli.
Living with autism can be challenging – as it affects a person’s social skills, relationships and ability to communicate with others – but it can also be rewarding.
Benefits of early diagnosis
An early diagnosis means different outcomes for both the person affected and those close to them – their family, carers, and friends. A 2021 Study found that an autism diagnosis before the age of 2.5 years of age is associated with considerable improvement in social symptoms.
But beyond that, it’s easy to see why an early diagnosis is critical for young children.
1. Early diagnosis means early treatment
The earlier you know – the quicker you can act in ensuring your child has access to the necessary treatments and strategies. Typically such diagnoses are carried out from the age of 2, however, studies indicate that early diagnosis and intervention can be carried out before if the healthcare professional deems appropriate.
2. Early diagnosis gives children access to supports faster
For many Australian families, early diagnosis means that children can start receiving key supports through the NDIS. This could be occupational therapy, speech pathology, or social support to support the child’s early development. Having a diagnosis earlier rather than later means that the child gains access to supports sooner and can take advantage of the benefits at a time where it matters most.
3. Early diagnosis improves children’s education outcomes
The early years are some of the most important in terms of learning, and early diagnosis can be a positive factor in improving education outcomes for children who would otherwise gain targeted programmes much later in their development.
How to get an autism assessment and diagnosis
Getting an effective assessment and diagnosis is essential to starting appropriate planning and early intervention programmes. But how do you get a diagnosis and where to start?
There are many institutions across Australia offering autism assessments and choosing one will depend on where you live, how long you are willing to wait and your budget. Some of the most trusted assessments are offered by institutions with long waiting lists (sometimes up to or beyond 12 months), so it’s important to do your research.
Institutions offering autism assessments should follow the “National Guidelines for the Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder” and be carried out by accredited professionals.
The assessments themselves usually include an online and an in-person (face-to-face) component and an interview with the parent or guardian. Anyone can take an assessment later in life to gauge progress or assist with finding the right support programme.
What types of treatments and therapy are available?
Received a diagnosis? Now it’s time to gain a better understanding of the treatments and therapies available because this will ensure your child has the best start to life possible.
While there is no universal approach for treating autism, here are three of the main treatment and therapy approaches available:
- Medical approach – includes a mixture of diet, pharmaceutical and digestive health-related changes.
- The non-medical approach involves behavioural, cognitive, and occupational therapy as well as physical and speech-language therapy.
- Alternative approaches include activities that stimulate the child’s creativity, individuality and self-confidence. This could involve art therapy, music, and sensory integration.
How parents and caregivers can help at home
Knowing how to care for a child experiencing autism is important for your relationship with the child – no matter whether you’re a carer, parent or guardian. Remaining sensitive to their needs and boundaries is important in building resilient and trusting relationships.
By engaging and learning about the treatments and therapies, parents and caregivers gain valuable insight into the child’s world and can better understand the child’s behaviours.
The best way a parent can help is by making sure the child gets a swift diagnosis. That way, the child is afforded every chance to get ahead with vital supports and programmes designed to improve their social and behavioural skills.
If you’re on the fence and thinking about booking your child in for an assessment – remember the earlier the better. Get in touch with a qualified professional near you and book an assessment today.