Australia's first national guideline to improve autism diagnosis

On 7 September 2017, Australia’s first draft national guideline for autism diagnosis was released for consultation.

Developed under a collaboration between the Autism CRC and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), the draft guideline aims to create greater consistency in diagnostic practices across the country to ensure autistic individuals and their families can be assured of quality and knowledgeable advice. The guideline also emphasises the importance of listening to individuals and their families about the impact of the behaviours on family life.

“The community has been requesting a national and consistent guideline for autism diagnosis for many years. The partnership between the Autism CRC and the NDIA has enabled the draft guideline to be developed through a comprehensive research process and in close consultation with the clinical and autistic community”, said Professor Andrew Whitehouse, Chief Research Officer, Autism CRC.

Informed diagnosis is an important step to help families identify the nature and impact of autism on a person’s life, and importantly then identify the most appropriate types of supports best placed to assist – such as the education and health systems, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The draft guideline is a result of comprehensive research and a 12-month consultation process conducted in partnership between Autism CRC and the NDIA as part of their collaboration to support the autism community to access evidence-based services. The process engaged many autistic adults, family members, clinicians and policy makers across Australia. This is an opportunity for the sector to see the consolidated evidence and provide feedback by 19 October 2017.

“By developing this draft national guideline, we hope to make the diagnostic process more consistent and efficient across Australia, so that everyone can receive an informed diagnosis regardless of age and location, and make informed decisions about next steps,” said Professor Andrew Whitehouse.

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
  • Variability in autism symptoms, together with considerable behavioural overlap with other developmental conditions
  • Clinicians have varying levels of skill and experience

Further complicating diagnosis, considerable variance exists between diagnostic practices across and within Australian states and territories. A review of diagnostic practices in Australia conducted by the Autism CRC concluded these variances likely contribute to the inconsistent provision and availability of public services and support for autistic individuals and their families.

In June 2016, the Autism CRC and the NDIA responded to these challenges by commissioning the development of Australia’s first national guideline for autism diagnosis.

This draft guideline outlines processes for both diagnostic decision-making and the comprehensive assessment of individual support needs. It includes the step-by-step, best-practice process for conducting an autism assessment and is supported by a series of clinical algorithms, case studies and templates.

On 7 September 2017, Professor Andrew Whitehouse, Autism CRC's Chief Research Officer launched the draft national guideline for further community consultation at his keynote presentation at the 2017 Asia Pacific Autism Conference, 7 to 9 September at the International Conference Centre in Sydney, New South Wales.

Download a copy of the draft national guideline and provide your feedback.