Accessing an Autism Diagnosis for a Child
If you need to access an autism assessment for your child, you have two different routes you can choose, Public or Private.
- The main benefit to a public assessment is that there is no fee for the assessment.
- The main downside to a public assessment at present is the wait-time until your child accesses their assessment, which currently can be as long as 3 years.
Applying for an assessment through the public route can be confusing.
Currently there are TWO different routes to an autism assessment publicly for your child (although both now result in a diagnostic assessment with the same HSE team).
- APPLYING DIRECTLY TO THE EARLY INTERVENTION AND SCHOOL AGE TEAMS
The HSE has local teams supporting children across Ireland. Each of these teams supports children with different levels and types of needs. These teams usually include Primary Care, Child & Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS), Early Intervention (EIT) and School Age Disability team (SAT).
The teams that assess for autism (as well as other complex developmental needs) are typically called the Early Intervention Team (for children 0-6) and the School Age Disability Team (for children 6-18). Although the HSE are moving towards all disability services being provided in the same way nationally (through a plan called Progressing Disability Services) there are still regional variations and where you live these teams might be called different names or organised slightly differently.
To request an assessment or therapy services from the Early Intervention or School Age Disability teams, you need a referral from a health care professional (e.g. your public health nurse, GP, Occupational Therapist or Speech & Language Therapist).
If the Early Intervention or School Age team accepts your referral (i.e. if they agree that your child is showing significant and complex difficulties in more than one area of functioning), you will be put on a waiting list for an assessment with that team. Unfortunately, services are very stretched at present and the waiting time is likely to be long. You will be given an approximate wait time when you are added to the waitlist.
TIP: If you are confused about how the Disability Teams are organised in your local area, ask at your local health centre.
- APPLY FOR AN ASSESSMENT OF NEED
Option 2 is to apply for an Assessment of Need. You can apply for this if your child was born after 1st June 2002 and you feel they have a disability (autism is classified as a disability). The aim of the assessment is to assess and identify health needs. Prior to February 2020, an Assessment of Need could lead to an official diagnostic assessment of Autism if indicated. However, under the new Assessment of Need Guidelines, children going forward will receive a brief “preliminary team assessment” and not a diagnostic assessment (so your child could not be given a diagnosis of autism following this initial brief assessment alone). However, if concerns are raised during this brief preliminary team assessment, your child would then be put on a separate second waiting list with your local Early Intervention or School Age Disability teams.
To apply for an Assessment of Need you need to contact your local Assessment Officer (found by calling your local health centre) and they will guide you through the application process. The Assessment Officer will look for information about your child’s difficulties. There are statutory guidelines about the timing of these assessments, with the Assessment Officer needing to arrange the referral within 3 months of receiving your application. Once the referral is made your child is supposed to have their assessment and a completed report within 3 months. However, again, as services are stretched there is often a delay with these.
NOTE: In some areas applying for an Assessment of Need may result in the child being seen sooner than a referral to the Early Intervention or School Age Team. In other areas, the Assessment of Need and Early Intervention/School Age Team waiting lists are merged and there is no benefit to applying for both. You can talk to your GP or Public Health Nurse about whether applying for both is necessary or needed where you live, but on balance it is recommended you apply for both.
Parents can also access autism assessments privately. This generally involves a much shorter wait time but has the downside of being costly due to the in depth nature of an autism assessment and the detail necessary in the final report in order to access services.
It is important to be aware that in order to access HSE services in the future, the assessment and report needs to include specific areas. If accessing a private assessment, find out beforehand if the following will be included in your child’s report:
- A cognitive or developmental assessment (this is particularly important in Dublin, where often access to services depends on it).
- The ADOS assessment undertaken in a multi-disciplinary way.
- A detailed parent interview such as the ADIR or DISCO.
Where to Access a Private Assessment:
Autism assessments need to be carried out by a Psychologist or Psychiatrist, and should also include input from a Speech & Language Therapist, Occupational Therapist or other member of the clinical team (making them a multi-disciplinary assessment).
Lists of Chartered Psychologists working privately can be accessed through the Psychological Society of Ireland’s ‘Find a Psychologist’ feature on their website (although unfortunately this does not yet break down psychologist by their speciality area).
Local autism parent support groups can often provide recommendations for private providers of autism assessments.
TIP: Before deciding on a clinic or professional, investigate if they have a speciality in autism.
RECOMMENDATION: If you choose to access a Private autism assessment, it is still recommended to also be referred to your local Early Intervention or School Age Disability Teams. Doing this means that you are linked in to the public system and you and your child can avail of public services if/when they are offered (e.g. parent training, Occupational Therapy or Speech & Language Therapy). It is a good idea to send in all information (including private reports) along with your application for Early Intervention or School Age Disability Services so that they have all the relevant information about your child.