Diagnosis of autism

At the beginning you just think ‘ah, the diagnosis is there I’ll just automatically get services’, but that’s the very, very beginning … you’re not always given a lot of information about what that diagnosis actually means.

(Mother of autistic man)[13]

Autism diagnosis is a task for trained medical professionals – however, a well-informed social care workforce has a vital role to play in identifying people who might have autism, but are as yet undiagnosed. Social care workers are also important sources of support at the point of diagnosis, and in the weeks and months that follow.

The benefits

Getting a diagnosis of autism, especially as an adult, can be hard, and four out of five adults in our research found it either difficult or impossible.[13] It may be particularly difficult for women, as their autism may present in ways unexpected in traditional diagnosis.[8] A diagnosis of autism does not automatically lead to service provision, but there are some key benefits:


The social care workforce needs to know how to make referrals for a diagnosis, and this must form part of the awareness-raising and training they receive. This requires good links between local health and social care bodies, so that timely, appropriate referrals can be made.

While having a diagnosis is important for people, without up-to-date training for service providers it can also lead to misconceptions about what it means to be autistic: ‘At university the counsellor immediately jumped on my application form that I had put down AS [Asperger syndrome] and said that it was impossible as I didn’t have a “special talent” and I was “too expressive” as I looked upset …’.[3]

There are several important things to consider at the point of diagnosis, and in the period that follows.

Of course, people do not need a diagnosis of autism to be assessed for social care services. Conversely, although people should be assessed if they do have a diagnosis, having autism doesn’t mean that they will then be eligible for support.

Making sure that, following diagnosis, the assessment for and provision of social care services is done in ways that work for people with autism is the subject of the next section.