Ensuring a positive experience of diagnosis for young people with autism

Featured article - 16 December 2019
Andrew Powell, Senior Practitioner, Bristol Autism Spectrum Service

Head-shot of the author, Andrew Powell, Senior Practitioner, Bristol Autism Spectrum Service

Hello there, I am Andrew Powell. I have worked with people who have an autism diagnosis for 25 years. I currently work part-time as a senior practitioner with the Bristol Autism Spectrum Service and also have roles supporting people with autism at Bristol City Council and Diverse UK, where I am chair.

I was asked to be part of a group of professionals who have experience of working with young people with autism to comment on the new NICE SCIE quick guide:

Different but equal

I jumped at the chance to comment as I feel we have some way to go as a society in accepting and embracing autistic thinking and experiencing as a different but equal mode of being. The words practitioners use when diagnosing can make a great difference to how young people and their families face their futures.

Early on in my career it became clear to me that the process of diagnosis should give people a realistic but positive view of autism. Professionals can really help when they talk in an honest and empowering way about diagnosis and move away from a deficit medical model. In other words, when diagnosticians are using the NICE recommended tools, they should also ensure that diagnosis is a therapeutic experience.

Language of encouragement

Many young people faced with diagnosis still say that it is not talked about openly, or, if it is, professionals sound too apologetic about giving a diagnosis. Some young people report overhearing comments from their parents, for example: “We just found out from the psychologist what is wrong with Josh”. That is not likely to build self-esteem!

On the other hand, some young people have said that the way the diagnostician talked about the diagnosis really helped them. One person reported that: “The doctor said I could achieve great things because I think the way I do”. So using language of encouragement from professionals can build self-confidence.

This new guide reminds diagnosticians to assess a young person’s strengths, skills and personal qualities, alongside areas of difference.

For some super books on positivity about autism, see:

Listen to the SCIE/NICE podcast on:

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