Why early diagnosis of autism in children is a good thing

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


Many children with autism are put on waiting lists and miss out on early behavioural interventions and other benefits because health professionals are reluctant to diagnose autism early out of fear of labelling young children.

Until recently “autism is a lifelong developmental disability” was repeated in nearly all descriptions and definitions of autism, even to the extent that some interventions, such as the TEACCH approach – which focused on structuring the physical environment to suit “the autism”, rather than on developing socially relevant and important skills for life in everyday inclusive society – were based on the concept of autism as a lifelong condition.

So, in order to prevent labelling children between one and three as “autistic” for the rest of their lives, diagnosis is being deliberately delayed, even if all the signs are there. Instead of receiving an early diagnosis, about half of the young children referred for diagnosis are put on a “watch-and-wait” list, in other words, their diagnosis is deferred. The rationale for this is to ensure that, when these children get the diagnosis, it is “stable” and does not change over time.

Under these contentions, diagnosis can be delayed for up to five years and sometimes, until the child has reached school age and beyond.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Conversation
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2014


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