Diagnosis V Assessment
Sometimes there is confusion around these two terms and their meanings.
- the process you ask for / go through when you think there might be something different and you want an expert opinion
- it may involve a number of sessions with a paediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, speech pathologist or occupational therapist.
- your first step is to ask your GP for referrals, so you can claim some of the cost back through Medicare rebates, or be directed to a government funded service.
- the end result of the assessment process should be reports or letters from each of the professionals you visited
- if they believe you or child has an autism spectrum condition, they will provide you with a report or diagnosis, and should include recommended actions for you to take
- if they believe you or your child does not have an autism spectrum condition, the report should say so
Getting an Assessment - For Children
Why get an Assessment:
Many people live their lives knowing they are different from those around them, without knowing why. If you are content with the status quo, you may feel there is no need for a diagnosis to confirm your suspicions. However, for some people, especially children, there may be advantages to putting a name to the differences they experience. A formal diagnosis may lead to additional practical support at school, increased understanding of areas of difficulty, and financial assistance with therapies and treatments. If you’re unsure whether you want your child or yourself to be ‘labelled’, you may want to read first-hand accounts from individuals who have been there, done that. Try Look Me in The Eye by John Elder Robinson, Freaks Geeks and Asperger Syndrome by Luke Jackson, or Asperger Sydnrome, the Universe and Everything by Kenneth Hall. All of these titles are available from our library. See also our Fact Sheet ‘Sharing the Diagnosis’.
At What Age?
This is a common question we hear - how old does the child have to be for a diagnosis to be accurate? It used to be thought that the child needed to be of school age for testing to be accurate, but that is no longer the case. With improved diagnostic tools and better awareness, children are being reliably diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition from the age of 2. The USA Government's Center for Disease Control and Prevention gives the following average age of diagnosis data from 2008 studies - for autistic disorder age 4 years, for autism spectrum age 4 years 5 months, and for Asperger Disorder 6 years 3 months.
Once you decide you want a professional diagnosis there are two paths you can take: government funded, or private assessment.
Government Funded Assessment Teams:
You can get in touch with a government-funded team that specialises in the assessment and diagnosis of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Parents can telephone these teams directly. There can be lengthy waiting lists. Contact the team closest to where you live. Click here to see the full list for Victoria.
The other (more costly) option is to seek assessment by a private professional provider. We can direct parents or adults seeking a diagnosis to professionals who have a special interest and/or experience in dealing with and diagnosing Asperger Syndrome. Anyone can make an appointment to see a psychologist. We recommend a preliminary conversation/email with the professional explaining your situation and need. This will assist you in determining their level of experience. Over the years Aspergers Victoria has compiled lists of various professionals working in the area of Autism Spectrum Disorders. View the Professional Directory.
Eastern Health CYMHS Autism Team have also developed a booklet called 'Directory for Autism Spectrum Assessments'.
Helping Children with Autism
The Australian Government's Helping Children With Autism Initiative provides a number of medicare rebates to help reduce the cost of assessments.
Getting an Assessment - For Adults
Unfortunately there is very little financial help for adults seeking an assessment for an autism spectrum condition. All the services and funding arrangements above apply to children only.
Your first step should be to see your GP. They should be able to refer you to a psychologist, and write a Mental Health Care Plan (MHCP) so you can get Medicare rebates for some of the cost. If they are reluctant, and you feel strongly about it, you may need to seek another opinion. Click here to go to the Medicare website for access to mental health care.
Other Professional Assessment Help
The following professional associations' websites allow visitors to locate a professional close to them.
- The Australian Psychological Society - Find a Psychologist
- Speech Pathology Australia
- Find an Occupational Therapist at OT Australia
- For more information on services like those above see our Professional Directory
Amaze/Autism Victoria’s website provides an excellent detailed description of the assessment process for children, and the different pathways for adults.