New national guideline for autism diagnosis

Friday, 19 October, 2018

New national guideline for autism diagnosis

Australia's first national guideline for the assessment and diagnosis of autism is now available.

Developed and published by Autism CRC, in conjunction with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), the guideline aims to create greater consistency in autism assessment and diagnostic practices across the country to ensure that all individuals and their families can receive optimal clinical care.

To date, the processes for the clinical assessment and diagnosis of autism have varied considerably across Australia.

Professor Andrew Whitehouse, Autism CRC Chief Research Officer, said the community has been requesting a national and consistent approach to autism diagnosis for many years.

"Work will now be undertaken to ensure this guideline is adopted and implemented by clinicians and services across Australia who are involved in autism assessment and diagnosis. This will ensure everyone can receive the best evidenced diagnostic practices, regardless of their age or location, and make informed decisions about next steps," said Professor Whitehouse.

Step-by-step guidance

The guideline outlines a step-by-step process for conducting a comprehensive needs assessment and a diagnostic evaluation of autism, from the time of referral until the results are shared in a written report. It outlines processes for both diagnostic decision-making and the comprehensive assessment of individual support needs. An accompanying administrative and technical report provides detailed information on the guideline development process and the evidence supporting the recommendations.

The guideline's recommendations have been approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), demonstrating they are high quality, based on best available scientific evidence and developed to rigorous standards. NHMRC-approved guidelines are recognised in Australia and internationally as representing current medical knowledge and best practice health care.

Autism diagnosis challenging

Autism diagnosis in Australia is a challenging issue. With no established biological marker for all individuals on the autism spectrum, diagnosis is not a straightforward task for several reasons:

  • Diagnosis is based on clinical judgement of behavioural presentation
  • There is variability in autism symptoms, together with considerable behavioural overlap with other developmental conditions
  • Clinicians have varying levels of skill and experience
  • Considerable variance exists between diagnostic practices across and within Australian states and territories.

A review of diagnostic practices in Australia conducted by Autism CRC concluded that these variances likely contribute to the inconsistent provision and availability of public services and support for autistic individuals and their families.

Professor Whitehouse said that while diagnosis is an important step to help families identify the presence of a given health or medical condition, it is critical to understand not just the presence or absence of clinical diagnoses, but also the individual's unique strengths and support needs.

"For this reason, the guideline emphasises the importance of a comprehensive needs assessment, recommending this takes place at the earliest possible stage. A comprehensive needs assessment, including an assessment of functioning and medical evaluation, allows the individual and their family to be linked to the appropriate supports," he said.

To obtain a copy of the national guideline, visit

Image credit: © Nazarova

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