What’s Involved In An Autism Diagnosis?

Getting a diagnosis of autism may seem sad or frustrating to the uninitiated, but those who have gotten diagnoses of autism usually find that it offers them several benefits. Just knowing that their problem has a name that applies to them is helpful to many who have been puzzled for years over what makes them so different from others.


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Once these individuals have received an adult diagnosis of autism, they can learn about the various treatments available and access mental health care. They can get involved in condition-specific support groups and enlist the right kinds of support from their friends and family. Furthermore, knowing exactly what autism is and how it typically manifests gives them a chance to become more self-aware and set appropriate goals for personal development.

The first step is to feel comfortable enough with how autism is diagnosed to be ready to talk about it with a licensed professional who has been trained to help people with autism. Counselors are available for this discussion and related help any time at BetterHelp.com. After that, the diagnosis can be done and treatment can begin. That first step is extremely important, because it opens the door to a world of help and resources.

What Is the Right Age for an Autism Diagnosis?

There is no magic age when autism must be diagnosed. Of course, the sooner the problem can be defined, the sooner the individual can access appropriate and effective help. However, for anyone suffering from autism, no matter what their age, a diagnosis can be a welcome relief and a springboard into a better life.

So, when is autism diagnosed? The answer is whenever the individual is ready to seek an answer and a professional completes an evaluation.


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Getting Started

Diagnosing autism involves more than a quick trip to the psychiatrist or psychologist. It is a process that begins with the autistic adult and/or their family members.

To begin, learn about the symptoms of the condition. With a little research, you can find out what the most common symptoms of the condition are. They include social difficulties and repetitive behaviors. While learning more about the condition can help, it is also important to keep an open mind as you pursue a diagnosis.

Self-Assessment Tests

Whether you are curious about whether you have autism spectrum disorder or you feel sure that you do, you can do a quick self-assessment test immediately. This will not give you an official diagnosis, and it will only be as accurate as the answers you give. However, it can be a helpful way to learn more about your need to seek an autism diagnosis.

  • RBQ-2A: Until recently, autism assessment tools were designed to be used for children. However, science is beginning to catch up to the increased demand for diagnostic of autism in adults. The Repetitive Behaviors Questionnaire was first designed for young children, but a new diagnostic tool based on the RBQ has been designed by researchers. Called the RBQ-2A, this self-assessment questionnaire is available for free After completing the short test, RBQ-2A can be scored by a mental health professional.

Source: openi.nlm.nih.gov

Autism Spectrum Quotient: This test is for self-assessment as well, and it is designed only as a beginning step towards an autism diagnosis. Interested individuals are instructed to answer 50 questions by choosing how much they agree or disagree with each statement. The test-taker can then have the test automatically scored to reveal their degree of social, communication, imagination, tolerance to change and attention to detail. This test can be taken for free online, but it is always crucial to discuss the results with a professional therapist or doctor before jumping to any final conclusions.


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Finding a Professional Who Can Diagnose Autism

Although getting a diagnosis is the best way to get help for adult autism, finding a doctor or counselor who is trained or has experience in diagnosing autism in adults can be challenging. Doctors and therapists who specialize in autism are best-prepared to make a definitive diagnosis. However, they are not available in every area. And, if you are just becoming aware that you might have autism, you probably don't immediately know who knows the autism diagnostic criteria well enough to be helpful.

Start by talking to a licensed counselor who is open to discussing help for any autism diagnosis age. They can either direct you to a professional who can make the evaluation or they can perform the diagnosis themselves.


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Another option is to seek a diagnosis from a mental health provider who has extensive experience in diagnosing autism in children. Then, ask them if they are open to doing your evaluation. This route makes especially good sense for individuals whose lives were marked by autism symptoms from an early age.

Preparing for the Evaluation

Once you identify a doctor or licensed therapist who can help you, the next step is to prepare for the diagnostic of autism. This can take a bit of time, but being ready with the right information can make the process go more smoothly and help get you a more accurate diagnosis.

  • Make a list of your symptoms. When the time comes to explain why you or your family member thinks you might have autism, it can be helpful to have a list of your unusual habits, behaviors, preferences as well as specific incidents when you have noticed them most. If you know what triggers these feelings and behaviors, add that to your list.
  • Get your family and friends to contribute to your list if possible. Before you go for a diagnosis, the people who know you best are usually the best source of objective information about your personal struggles. Ask them to write briefly about what they've noticed.
  • Be ready for questions about your history. The person who diagnoses your condition will start by taking a detailed history. Think back to when you first noticed the problems that might have indicated you have autism. Then, gather any information you need to tell the complete story.

Professional Assessment

When you suspect that you have autism, professional assessment is critical. When you go to someone who knows how to diagnose autism, they will do a careful and complete assessment of your condition and let you know the results of their findings. They may then offer treatment or refer you to another professional who can treat your condition.

Taking a history. A doctor or professional counselor begins the work of diagnosing autism by taking a complete medical and behavioral history of the individual. This might include facts from infancy to the current day. The person doing the diagnosis might want to know about your birth, what immunizations you had and when, and your early experiences with social interactions. Details about your childhood and adolescence may prove helpful to establish a history of autism or recognize that you have only recently noticed the symptoms. Your adulthood is also important, and the diagnostician typically asks about medical problems and social challenges you've faced as an adult. If the individual sought help for this problem at some point in the past, the professional will ask: when was autism first diagnosed?


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Direct observation. Observing the individual's behavior is always a key component of autism diagnosis. For adults who may have learned ways to hide their difficulties, direct observation is even more useful. The therapist or doctor can observe some behaviors themselves, but for a more complete and accurate view of the condition, family members may be enlisted to help. They are taught to use autism rating scales to note details of the individual's actions when they occur.

Two of the most commonly used autism scales have been used for adults with some degree of success. They are the Autism Behavior Checklist, more informally called the ABC, and the Real Life Rating Scale.

  • Autism Behavior Checklist: The ABC has 57 questions relating to 5 areas of concern including Sensory Behavior, Social Relating, Body and Object Use, Language and Communication Skills, and Social and Adaptive Skills. Originally designed for children and adolescents through the age of 14, the test has proven to be somewhat unreliable for final adult autism diagnoses, but counselors often use the quick, 20-minute checklist as a helpful screening tool.
  • Real Life Rating Scale: To use the Real Live Rating Scale, the professional begins by arranging training for family members or others who might do the direct observations. Once they understand what to do, they note the frequency of each listed behavior while they are observing the individual in a natural setting. These raters get together and compare notes on at least three occasions before giving their results to the professional, who can then score the test easily and provide recommendations for treatment if needed.

Making the Diagnosis

After taking the medical and behavioral history, getting input from the individual being diagnosed, and scoring any diagnostic tests used, the professional therapist determines if the individual meets the autism diagnostic criteria. At that point, they tell the individual about their conclusions and explain the beneficial treatments available. The person with autism is on their way to discovering new ways to think and behave to make their life more pleasant and successful.


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