Understandably, there is a lot of curiosity about what the process of an Autism and ADHD assessment involves, and the internet is saturated with often contradictory information. Clinical psychologist Dr Kate Empson of Park Psychology Services demystifies the process.
There are certain things that are required to ensure a high quality Autism or ADHD assessment. These include the need to follow the relevant NICE Guidelines (which can be found here and here). These state that Autism assessments should be done by a multi-disciplinary team which includes a paediatrician and/or child and adolescent psychiatrist, a speech and language therapist, and a psychologist with experience and training working with Autistic children. When exploring ADHD, a specialist psychiatrist, paediatrician or other appropriately qualified healthcare professional should complete the assessment. Park Psychology’s Autism assessments involve a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, a speech and language therapist and a clinical psychologist. Our ADHD assessments involve both a clinical psychologist and a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist. All of Park Psychology’s clinicians have significant experience in Autism and ADHD.
A detailed developmental history should be completed with the child’s parents or carers. This includes gathering information from pregnancy and the child’s early years, as well as finding out information about their physical and emotional wellbeing. Current differences or difficulties are also explored with parents or carers. Gathering information about the child’s experience of school is an important part of the process; consideration should be given to the possibility that a child may ‘mask’ their differences or difficulties in such environments. Where a child is not attending school, there should ideally be thought given to how they experience other contexts. Seeing the child in person is also a very valuable part of a good assessment; often this part includes some games and activities and sometimes children are asked to complete a computer based activity. It also gives the team an opportunity to get to know the child better.
There is much more to a good assessment than this, however.
A good assessment should allow space for both you and your child to feel heard. It should be a collaborative process whereby you bring expertise about yourselves and your child, and the clinicians involved bring their expertise in Autism/ADHD. We recognise that often people have waited a long time for their assessment, and feel it is important that people leave each appointment feeling understood and validated.
Assessments should also seek to fully understand your child, which includes their strengths, hopes and wishes as well as exploring the challenges and difficulties they may be experiencing. You and your child’s voice should be at the heart of the process.
Assessments should also be detailed and thorough, enabling other services (including NHS services) to see clearly that the process has followed best-practice guidelines, and has evidenced why an outcome was reached, leaving no doubt about the quality of the assessment or the validity of a diagnosis where this is given. Although a lot of information will be gathered as part of the process, this should be done at a pace that is comfortable for you. You should never feel rushed in appointments, and should feel at the end that you have been given the opportunity to share everything you wanted to. At Park Psychology, we ask if you would like the parental history part of the assessment to be split over two appointments, given its length and level of detail. If there are adaptations that can be made to help you and/or your child feel comfortable, then we will do our best to put these in place. For example, some children find it helpful to see where their appointment will take place, and who will be doing it; we can provide social stories, including photos to help with this.
Support following an assessment
A good assessment has the potential to be a powerful intervention in and of itself. However, support after an assessment should also be offered; we provide this in both comprehensive, personalised recommendations included within your report, and we also offer individual therapeutic support following an assessment. If there is anything else you feel would be helpful, we would be happy to discuss this too.
At Park Psychology Services, we are passionate about collaborating with children and their families. We do all we can to ensure a positive and helpful experience and it is our privilege to work in this area. If you feel we can be of help, please get in touch with us.