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Autism in adults: What to expect from an autism assessment

Written by Sarah Norman

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    Feb 2, 2023, 3 min read

    Autism is a form of neurodiversity, a difference in how one’s brain is wired compared to those of non-autistic people. It comes on a spectrum, meaning that each individual has a different mix of characteristics.

    Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition, meaning that it is present throughout one's life, beginning with early childhood.  Core traits of autism include differences in social communication, difficulties in understanding or expressing feelings, restrictive and repetitive behaviours and sensory processing.

    It can present day to day difficulties and often be misunderstood. Many autistic people have co-occurring conditions such as anxiety, depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Oftentimes these conditions can mask autistic traits, making one's areas of difficulty a bit more challenging to understand.

    You might decide to go through the assessment process in order to better understand yourself or your relationships, or to find ways to generally improve your mental health.

    If you decide to have an assessment, read on to learn what to expect.

    The autism assessment

    Autism assessments take between 1 hour and 30 minutes and 3 hours. They are conducted by a multidisciplinary team consisting psychologists and/or mental health nurses, as well as a psychiatrist.

    Mental health professionals who conduct autism assessments need to have undergone specialised training in autism. Not all mental health practitioners, including not psychiatrists, are able to perform this assessment. It is therefore important to book an assessment with a suitable professional.

    Before the assessment, you will be sent a short screening questionnaire, called the AQ-10 (Autism Quotient 10), which consists of ten questions. If you score above a threshold of 4 , then you will proceed to see a mental health nurse and/or  psychologist, followed by a psychiatrist. The session with the psychologist and/or mental health nurse and with the psychiatrist might happen on separate occasions.

    Seeing a psychologist and/or mental health nurse

    A specialised psychologist and/or mental health nurse will administer a version of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). This questionnaire is designed to be flexible, allowing for modifications based on the individual's age, developmental level, and language abilities.

    During the assessment, the administrator will observe your  behavior, interactions, and responses to various tasks and activities. The observations are then scored and used to determine if the individual meets the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder.

    Seeing a psychiatrist

    A psychiatrist will consult with the psychologist or mental health nurse and consider results of the ADOS, along with other information gathered through developmental and medical evaluations to complete the assessment. The psychiatrist will take a general history and look to understand current concerns, as well as administer further questionnaires in line with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 (DSM-V).

    Psychiatrists may also ask information from parents, siblings, or someone that knows the client well and for enough, in order to better understand the developmental history of the client.

    Outcomes and further steps

    If you are, indeed, autistic, the psychiatrist may tell you that you meet the criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Together with you, the psychiatrist will put together a plan to support you in areas of difficulty identified during the assessment. Further steps may involve psychoeducation, therapy, coaching or signposting to support groups and other resources.

    They may also recommend suitable medication for conditions such as depression and anxiety, or suggestions that you have an ADHD assessment, if there is reason to believe that ADHD could also be present.

    There is no pharmacological treatment for autism, and many argue that since it is a neurodivergence, a natural variability in among brains which should be understood and accepted by society, rather than changed.

    Please note that in order to get assessed with a psychiatrist working with Augmentive, you do not need a GP referral.

    If you are looking to find a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, therapist or autism coach, or you are unsure what type of support suits you, speak to one of our in-house mental health professionals at Augmentive to find out more. We will get back to you within 24 hours.

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