You may meet a number of professionals in the course of getting a diagnosis or after you have received a diagnosis. Here's a brief introduction to what each professional does.
Behaviour support team
Behaviour support teams support families by assessing a child's challenging behaviour and introducing a behaviour management programme. A child might be referred to the team by their school, GP or social worker.
People who are eligible for social care funding from their local authority and have a personal budget can use a broker. Self-funders can also use brokerage. A broker can help people and families to plan and make choices about the support they need. Find brokerage services on the National Brokerage Network website.
People are often referred to a clinical psychologist where there are behavioural difficulties. A clinical psychologist looks at what function the behaviour has and may introduce a behaviour management plan. Specialist clinical psychologists may be involved in the process of diagnosis as part of a multi-professional team. They may also offer a follow-up service. To see a clinical psychologist through the NHS, you will need a referral from your GP. Some clinical psychologists practice privately.
Counsellor and psychotherapist
Counsellors and psychotherapists are able to talk through various issues with individuals and families. You can get counselling on the NHS through a GP referral. There are also many counsellors working in private practice.
Regular dental check-ups are important, especially if it is hard to communicate toothache or pain. Many autistic people find visits to the dentist difficult, so a patient and sympathetic dentist can really help. The British Society for Disability and Oral Health can put you in touch with relevant dental services.
Dieticians provide advice and information on nutrition and diet. Your GP, paediatrician or hospital consultant can make a referral to a dietician. We strongly recommend you consult a dietician before introducing any dietary intervention. You can find dieticians working privately on the website of Freelance Dietitians (a specialist group of the British Dietetic Association).
Educational psychologists carry out psychological assessments including learning profiles and needs, usually in educational settings. They offer consultation, advice and support to teachers, parents and to the children, young people and adults concerned. They may be involved in the process of diagnosis as part of a multi-professional team. They may also offer a follow-up service. They are usually employed by local education authorities but some Educational Psychologists work in private practice.
GP (General Practitioner)
Your GP or family doctor can make referrals to relevant professionals for you. Although responsible for the general health of their patients, GPs do not usually offer specialist advice or treatment.
Health visitors are specially-trained nurses responsible for the promotion of health and development in pre-school children. Concerns about development may be raised with or by a health visitor during routine developmental assessments. You may then be referred to other professionals.
Occupational therapists are often concerned with the difficulties people have in carrying out everyday activities. They can help with therapeutic techniques, identifying sensory sensitivities, adaptations to the environment, and specialist equipment. They may work for the NHS or social services. Some Occupational Therapists work in private practice.
An outreach worker can help adults to access opportunities and activities outside their home. This might include assisting people to take part in their favourite sport or attend a college course. Find out more about our charity's outreach services and others in the Autism Services Directory.
Optician and Behavioural Optometrist
Opticians are able to assess eyesight difficulties. There is some limited research evidence that coloured overlays could be useful for some autistic people. A Behavioural Optometrist can carry out an assessment to find the appropriate colours for overlays or lenses.
Paediatricians are experts in the health and development of children, particularly those with developmental disabilities. Paediatricians are often involved in the initial diagnosis of autism and offer follow-up support in some cases. Your GP or another health professional usually needs to refer your child to a paediatrician.
Psychiatrists can diagnose autism and may offer a follow-up service. Psychiatrists are often involved where there are behavioural issues or mental health difficulties, and are able to prescribe and monitor medication. To see a psychiatrist on the NHS, you will usually need a referral through a GP or other health professional. There are some psychiatrists in private practice.
SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) / Learning Support Teacher
The SENCO (in England, Northern Ireland and Wales), or Learning Support Teacher (in Scotland) is the teacher in a school or nursery with day-to-day responsibility for SEN (Special Educational Needs). Parents should always be consulted and kept informed of the action taken to help their child and of the outcome of this action.
Social worker and care manager
Social workers and care managers are involved in assessing the care needs of autistic people and their families. They are also involved in arranging services to meet those needs. If you do not have a named social worker or care manager and need urgent assistance from your local social services team, ask to speak to the duty social worker.
Speech and language therapist (SLT)
Speech and language therapists (SLTs) assess speech, language and communication abilities. They can carry out therapy to assist with specific difficulties, and may also be involved in implementing alternative communication systems, such as PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). They may be involved in the process of diagnosis as part of a multi-professional team. They may also offer a follow-up service. Your GP can refer you to an NHS SLT. Speech and language therapy may sometimes be accessed through your local education authority if it is recognised as an educational need on a child's statement, Individual Education Plan, Education Help and Care Plan, or Coordinated Support Plan. Some SLTs work in private practice.
Find out more about diagnosis, social care and getting extra help in school.
Last reviewed 19 September 2016