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Why a really good Autism assessment matters (Guest Post)

When Jude asked me to write a blog post about something I was passionate about it took me a while to decide on a topic. I started working with young people with autism 16 years ago and have been a lead specialist in autism in the NHS for almost eight years so there’s a lot about autism that I am passionate about. After some thought I decided I wanted to write about the value of a diagnosis when it comes after a really good assessment.

Diagnosis is not an area Clinical Psychologists typically focus on, we are usually more involved in understanding why people experience the difficulties they do and designing therapies to help make their lives easier. However this is precisely why we should be involved in the assessment and diagnosis of Autism. Autism cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or a brain scan: it requires careful assessment to understand why a person behaves, thinks and feels differently from many people around them. Clinical psychologists love to ask many questions and analyse why something is happening. For example, a child with very few friendships may have autism, but may also be socially anxious or be feeling down or be naturally introverted with no other signs of autism.

I hear a lot of debate about whether it is ‘right’ to ‘label’ people,especially children, with a condition. Overwhelmingly I have found that families experience a diagnosis to be a relief and a helpful way to understand and explain a person’s way of being in the world. Parents describe being able to access support to help their children in education and in the community. Young people have told me a diagnosis has helped them to realise that they are not weird or stupid and actually they now belong to a really cool club of people who think like them and have a wonderful, interesting perspective on the world. Remember Temple Grandin, Chris Packham, Guy Martin and Anthony Hopkins are part of this club!

What seems to be most important in how valuable the diagnosis is, is how the Autism assessment it done. What I hear most from families is that they value being seen by experienced and knowledgeable clinicians as quickly as possible when concerns are raised. They want to work with clinicians who will consider all possibilities and be able to say what is going on if Autism is not the right diagnosis. They want clinicians to take the time to get to know them and their family. They want clinicians who are truly interested in them and what makes them tick. I love that part of my job is to hear about what people are passionate about; I am now so much more knowledgable about car number plates, coins, trains and duvet tog rating systems!

Families don’t just want a piece of paper with a diagnosis on it but a profile of a person with their strengths and areas that they need support clearly described with lots of ideas on how to support them be the most content they can be in the world. They want a recognition that autism is a style of thinking and being that has true value and that this perspective has much to add to the world. A really robust assessment can capture this and identify anything that would support a person to make the most of their view of the world.

I have been so impressed by the assessment package that Grow Communication offers families. The expertise of more than one clinician every step of the way, the effort to get to know a person in several areas of their lives and the use of assessment tools supported by research provides a first class assessment and basis for intervention and support.

Jill Ogston is a Clinical Psychologist and works as an Autism lead specialist within the NHS. Jill also works with Grow Communication for multi-disciplinary assessment and developing positive supports with, and for families. Grow offers gold-Standard multidisciplinary assessments including Assessment for Autism and ADHD. Grow recognises the PDA profile of Autism.