You may meet a number of professionals in the course of getting a diagnosis or after you have received a diagnosis. Here's a brief introduction to what each professional does.
For more information about any of these professional roles, and to search for professionals in your area, contact our Autism Helpline.
Behaviour support team
Behaviour support teams operate in some areas. The teams support families by assessing a child's challenging behaviour and introducing a behaviour management programme. To access a behaviour support team, you will often need a referral from your GP or other health professional. Occasionally, access is through social services.
Clinical psychologists are able to make a diagnosis of autism and may offer a follow-up service. People are often referred to a clinical psychologist where there are behavioural difficulties. A clinical psychologist looks at what function the behaviour has and may introduce a behaviour management plan. To see a clinical psychologist through the NHS, you will need a referral from your GP. Some clinical psychologists practice privately.
Counsellors and psychotherapists
Counsellors and psychotherapists are able to talk through various issues with individuals and families. Counselling can be accessed on the NHS through a GP referral. There are also many counsellors working in private practice.
Regular dential check-ups are important, especially if it is hard to communicate toothache or pain. Many children with autism, in particular, find visits to the dentist difficult, so a patient and sympathetic dentist can really help. The British Society for Disability and Oral Health can put you in touch with relevant dental services.
Dieticians provide advice and information on nutrition and diets. Your GP, paediatrician or hospital consultant can make a referral to a dietician. We strongly recommend you consult a dietician before introducing any dietary intervention (such as the gluten- and casein-free diet). The Autism File website has details of nutritionalists with knowledge of autism.
Educational psychologists are involved in assessing children's educational needs, and the statementing process. They are usually employed by local education authorities but some work in private practice.
Your GP or family doctor can make referrals to relevant professionals for you. Although responsible for the general health of their patients, GPs do not usually offer specialist advice or treatment.
Health visitors are specially-trained nurses responsible for the promotion of health and development in pre-school children. Concerns about development may be raised with or by a health visitor during routine developmental assessments. You may then be referred to other professionals.
Occupational therapists are often concerned with the difficulties people have in carrying out everyday activities. They can help with therapeutic techniques, adaptations to the environment, and specialist equipment. They may work for the NHS or social services.
Opticians are able to assess visual difficulties. The Institute of Optometry holds clinics for people with learning difficulties twice weekly.
There has been increasing interest in the use of Irlen and coloured lenses by people with autism. Further information is available from The Irlen Institute or from Orthoscopics.
Paediatricians are experts in the health and development of children, particularly those with developmental disorders. Paediatricians are often involved in the initial diagnosis of autism and offer follow-up support in some cases. Your GP or another health professional usually needs to refer your child to a paediatrician.
Psychiatrists are able to make a diagnosis of autism and may offer a follow-up service. Psychiatrists are often involved where there are behavioural issues or mental health difficulties, and are able to prescribe and monitor medication. To see a psychiatrist on the NHS, you will usually need a referral through a GP or other health professional, although there are some psychiatrists in private practice.
Social worker and care manager
Social workers and care managers are involved in assessing the care needs of people with autism and their families. They are also involved in arranging provision to meet the assessed needs. If you do not have a named social worker or care manager and need urgent assistance from your local social services team, ask to speak to the duty social worker.
Speech and language therapist
Speech and language therapists assess speech, language and communication abilities. They can carry out therapy to assist with specific difficulties, and may also be involved in implementing alternative communication systems, such as PECS.
Speech and language therapists are often involved in the diagnosis of autism, working as part of a multi-disciplinary team. Help from a speech and language therapist on the NHS can be accessed through a referral by your GP. There are also some speech and language therapists in independent practice who accept self-referrals. Speech and language therapy may sometimes be accessed through your local education authority if it is recognised as an educational need on a child's statement.
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