1. Make an appointment with a health professional
If you’ve noticed signs of signs of autism or you think your child might be autistic, it’s best to act early and make an appointment with a professional. For example, you could talk to your child and family health nurse, your GP or a paediatrician.
Before the appointment, it’s a good idea to write down what you’ve noticed, including examples. You can also note questions, comments or observations that your child’s early childhood education service or school has raised. You can share all this information with the health professional.
If the professional doesn’t think your child is autistic but you’re still wondering, it’s OK to ask for a second, or even third, opinion from another professional.
If your child is aged 11-30 months, you can monitor their social communication behaviour and interaction using the ASDetect app. It gives clear examples of what to expect in the early stages of your child’s social and language development.
2. Learn about autism services, therapies and supports
Early services, therapies and supports can help children develop their own ways of communicating, learning and taking part in communities.
Sometimes children who get early therapies and supports need less or no support as they get older.
If your child is under 7 years old, they can get therapies and supports before they have a formal autism diagnosis. Here’s how:
- Contact the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) on 1800 800 110. Your child can get support through the NDIS’s early childhood approach without a diagnosis.
- Look into programs that your child can start without an assessment and diagnosis – for example, PlayConnect playgroups or Early Days workshops for parents.
- Get your child started on therapies like speech pathology or occupational therapy while you’re waiting for an autism assessment or NDIS support. Your GP will be able to tell you about Medicare rebates for these services.
- Put your child’s name on waiting lists for some therapies and supports while you wait for your child’s autism assessment.
If your child is over 7 years old, there’s a different pathway to get NDIS support. Your child will need a formal autism diagnosis before starting on this pathway.
3. Get an autism diagnosis
Arrange an autism assessment for your child as early as you can. A thorough assessment is important because it’ll help you choose therapies and supports that suit your child. Be sure to make an appointment with a professional trained in diagnosing autism, like a psychologist, speech pathologist or paediatrician. You might need a referral from your child’s family health nurse or GP.
Autism diagnosis is based on observing your child, talking to you and others about your child, and looking at your child’s developmental history. It usually involves many health professionals.
4. Build your support network
A supportive network of family and friends can help you make sense of information. They can also support you in practical ways:
- Talk to friends and family you trust about the things you’ve noticed in your child.
- Meet and talk to other parents of autistic children by joining forums or parent groups. Your state autism association or an early childhood partner can help you find local groups.
- If you need time to yourself, ask family or friends to look after your child occasionally or for other kinds of practical help, like cooking an occasional meal. You might find it hard to ask for or accept help, but people who care about you and your child will want to support you.
When you look after yourself and you’re healthy and well, it helps your child grow and thrive.
5. Read, talk, ask questions
Finding out more about autism and evidence-based therapies can help you choose supports that are best suited to your child’s needs and strengths:
- Read information about autism on this website.
- Learn about neurodiversity and neurodivergence and why it’s important to look for people and services that accept, celebrate and support neurodivergent children.
- Read about the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children and how to choose therapies and supports. You can also find out more about individual therapies for autistic children.