Autism Assessment Service

What is Autism?

Autism describes differences in social communication and interaction and particular interests, preferences in activities and for sameness and sensory sensitivities.

There is a great variation in how people perceive the world, interact with one another and their area and range of interests. We call this neurodiversity and the different ways which we contribute to society should be celebrated. There are many people who are neurodiverse who have contributed to human progress, for example Elon Musk and Greta Thunberg are autistic.

Who are we?

We provide Autism Assessments for Children and Young People in Kent and Medway In West Kent this is for children and young people from the age of 11, up to the age of 18 and in East Kent from the age of 8 up to 18.

What do we provide?

We are commissioned to assess children and young people for autism. In West Kent this is for children and young people from the age of 11, up to the age of 18 and in East Kent from the age of 8 up to 18.

The assessment process includes screening forms for parents and teachers, information gathering from parents and an individual assessment with a child or young person. The individual assessment is called the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule 2 (ADOS). It is an opportunity to learn about how your child communicates and interacts with other people. A number of pre-determined conversational and play based tasks will be completed based on your child’s age and language abilities. This is combined with information gathered about your child’s developmental history so that the team can make a decision about whether a young person meets the criteria for a diagnosis. There are a great many people who have traits of neurodiversity and autism who do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis and it is important to consider if and how a person’s social communication strengths and weaknesses affect their daily lives.

Process for Autism Assessment

Referral

30-60 minutes online

A referral can be made into the NELFT Kent and Medway Single Point of Access (SPA) from a parent/carer or a professional that knows your child well i.e. GP, teacher, early help worker.  The referrer will need to complete a Single Point of Access (SPA) referral form.  Single Point of Access referral form  – please make sure you clearly state any mental wellbeing concerns as well as indicating if you are seeking an autism assessment.

Triage  

5 working days (Clinical review of referral information)

Once the fully completed referral form is submitted to the SPA team, a discussion will be carried out to review the young person’s referral and decide if they meet the criteria to be put forward for an Autism assessment. If other additional mental health needs are indicated on the referral, the SPA team will direct the referral to the most appropriate service or pathway within our service as part of the triage process. 

Screening

4-8 weeks (Dependent on return the completed screeners) —  Neuro Diverse  Screening  Tools are used to determine Criteria Met for Autism Assessment

If the referral information suggests an autism assessment may be appropriate for the child or young person, you will be sent additional forms that are called 'screeners' to complete and send back to us. ‘Screeners’ are questionnaires and are usually completed by the family and educational service (If not in education, this will not exclude you).

Outcome

Waiting times for an Autism Assessment can be up to four years

If the child or young person meets the criteria for an autism assessment, they will be added to the waiting list and a letter of confirmation will be sent to the parent/carer, referrer, and GP. If the child/young person does not meet the criteria for an autism assessment, you will receive a letter informing you of the outcome. If you have indicated additional emotional wellbeing or mental health concerns on your referral, you may be directed to, or be offered other support. The outcome letter will also provide a list of further resources that may be helpful, including how to access our online drop-in clinics or virtual psychoeducation workshops if your child is awaiting an assessment.

The length of wait for a neurodevelopmental assessment is both a local and national recognised problem, and, as a Trust, we are working hard to assess as many young people as quickly as possible. Further, we have procured specialist training in neurodevelopmental assessments for our mental health staff in the locality teams across Kent and Medway, to enable us to increase our assessment rates over the coming year.

We would also like to assure you that the waiting times are a primary focus in the Kent and Medway area. NELFT have been working with Kent and Medway ICB to look at a system wide approach to managing the unprecedented demand for assessments and to explore other approaches going forward. This new workstream for neurodevelopmental assessment and support is being led by the Children’s Partnership Board by the Children’s lead from the ICB alongside NELFT and other providers, working together to look for new solutions to what is a challenging local and national picture. We do support children and families by ensuring that they have contact details and support materials whilst awaiting diagnostic assessment, and we make wellbeing calls to each family every six to twelve months. Families can also access our Single Point of Access for further advice and help or if they have concerns about their child's mental health.

Whist you are waiting for your assessment, please  visit our Support while you wait page

How to make a referral

Who can refer

We accept referrals from parents, carers, school, GP and other professionals. The most important thing is that we have all of the required information that we ask for so that our triage team can ensure the young person is directed to the most appropriate support.

How to make a referral

You can refer using our Single Point of Access referral form – please make sure you clearly state any mental well being concerns as well as indicating if you are seeking an Autism diagnosis. Our Autism diagnostic service is only for diagnosing Autism and isn’t specifically for family or mental health support for those with Autism. If you think the child or young person has additional mental health concerns, please make this clear on your referral information so that the team can ensure the right support is considered.

How to access an Assessment

Assessment Process

  1. Screening measures and information forms collected from parents and school staff
  2. Information from parent/carer perspective collected
  3. Individual assessment with your child
  4. Additional information collected
  5. Feedback from clinicians

You do not require a diagnosis of autism to be able to access help and support. Please do no wait for an assessment to do so.

A needs led approach to help and support

Your child does not require a diagnosis of autism to be able to access help and support. Please do not wait for an assessment to do so. For example, you can access the Cygnet Group to help develop your knowledge of autism and to understand how to adapt the environment for a particular child and young person’s needs. Many autistic people have mental health difficulties, you can be seen for mental health support by our schools or community teams. Schools have a responsibility to meet children’s needs based on their needs rather than a diagnosis. We are continually working with our partners in education to ensure that children/young people who need extra help in school are able to access this regardless of whether they have had an assessment.  If you have difficulties attaining the level of support your child needs in school, please contact IASK.

We regularly run online workshops and drop ins for parents.

Email NLDS.APS@nelft.nhs.uk to be added to our mailing list to hear about upcoming events.

We are working with our partners to ensure that there is access to help and support throughout this process. Not having a diagnosis should not be a barrier to access help for your child needs.

This includes:

  • School support is based on needs rather than a diagnosis
  • Mental health support is available for all children and young people based on their needs in schools and community settings
  • Disability Living Allowance is a needs based benefit 

Who can refer?

We accept referrals from parents, carers, school, GP and other professionals. The most important thing is that we have all of the required information that we ask for so that our triage team can ensure the young person is directed to the most appropriate support.

How to make a referral

You can refer using our  Single Point of Access referral form  – please make sure you clearly state any mental wellbeing concerns as well as indicating if you are seeking an autism assessment. Our service is only commissioned to assess and diagnose for autism and isn’t specifically for family or mental health support for those with Autism. If you think the child or young person has additional mental health concerns or needs, please make this clear on your referral information so that the team can ensure the right support is considered.

What happens at the Assessment?

An Autism Assessment involves two parts, this follows the NICE Guidelines.

Developmental interview with the parent/carer

This will involve the child or young person’s parent/carer having an interview with one of our clinicians. This will involve answering lots of questions about the developmental history of the child or young person, for example some around pregnancy, early development, social interaction, language development, and education. Sometimes parents/carers find it helpful to bring along any relevant or important documentation they have received about their child or young person to share with the clinician .

Structural Observational Assessment with the child or young person

For this part of the assessment, the young person comes into a clinic for an observational assessment with a facilitator. This assessment is called an Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition or an ADOS-2. This is to help us get to know the child or young person better and to learn about how they like to communicate and interact. This assessment will involve activities, games, and talking with the facilitator.

Making a decision

After both parts of the assessment have been completed, the team will come together to talk about the findings and whether there is enough evidence to provide the child or young person with a diagnosis of autism. Sometimes we may need to gather some more information to help us make this decision, for example from the young person’s school.

Once the decision has been made, this will be fedback to you by one our clinicians. We will write up a report and send you and the GP a copy of this. After this, your referral will be discharged from our service.

We are not commissioned to provide post-diagnostic support for autistic children and young people. We can provide mental health support through our school and community teams. Parents can access the Cygnet Group and access Kent Autistic Trust for community support and IASK for information and advice for educational support. As a parent or carer you are able to access our drop-in clinics or psychoeducation workshops.