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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is autism?
    Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental condition that affects how people communicate and interact with the world. Autism is a spectrum condition, which means that all people on the autism spectrum share certain characteristics with one another, but these vary from one person to another.
  • What is the difference between autism or autism spectrum disorder and Asperger’s?
    The term Asperger's was used in the past to identify some people on the autism spectrum. These days however, we no longer use the term Asperger's when making a diagnosis. Instead, we use the terms autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when making a medical diagnosis and in the reports we produce. At times, you may also hear us use the term autism spectrum condition (ASC), which has the same meaning as ASD but is now often used as a preferred neurodivergent affirming term.
  • Why is a diagnosis important?
    As a parent, a diagnosis means you can focus on the right tools to best support your child or young person. You can then also confidently advocate for them and put the right systems in place to make life that little bit easier for them and for you. As a child or young person, an autism diagnosis means that things often finally start to make more sense. Rather than constantly questioning why they find certain situations so tricky, they are empowered to focus on the right strategies to help them manage better and grow into their best selves. For younger children, it will mean they avoid that questioning right from the start and will get the support and care they need to thrive.
  • How robust is the Sphere assessment?
    At Sphere, we go above and beyond clinical best practice guidelines for autism assessments. Our multi-disciplinary approach gives us a truly comprehensive picture of what is going on for your child or young person and is in fact often more in-depth than the assessments currently carried out by the NHS. We use ‘Gold Standard’ tools recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) and NHS England, such as the ADI-R and ADOS tests. We believe that this is the most robust route to take for an accurate autism diagnosis.
  • What is involved in the GARS, ADI-R and ADOS assessments you carry out?
    We use ‘Gold Standard’ assessment tools which are recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) and NHS England. These are: GARS-3 (the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale): We ask a member of staff at your child’s school or nursery to fill out this structured questionnaire. It will focus on your child or young person's communication, interaction, and behaviour and will help us gain a full picture of their strengths and differences in more than one setting. ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised Addition): This is an in-depth parental interview where we discuss your child’s developmental history. The core areas that are explored are around social communication, social interaction, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities, and interests. It usually takes approximately three hours. ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule 2): This is a structured play-based observation that assesses your child’s social communication and interaction skills with an unfamiliar adult. This will be completed with two clinicians (usually a Psychologist and a Speech and Language Therapist). For young children, parents typically remain in the room; older children and young people are usually able to complete the assessment independently.
  • What happens in a General Developmental Assessment (GDA)?
    As part of the Autism Assessment process, you and your child/young person will attend a General Developmental Assessment (GDA) with our Consultant Paediatrician. She will meet with you all, look at your child's medical and developmental history and carry out a medical examination. At Sphere, we also offer standalone General Developmental Assessments (GDAs). Our Paediatrician can then advise as to whether a full Autism Assessment is needed or whether another neurodevelopmental area, such as ADHD, should be looked at in more detail.
  • Will the assessment be recognised by schools and the NHS?
    The NHS in England and schools generally recognise private autism assessments as long as they adhere to the same requirements and standards for diagnosing set out by NHS England. This includes criteria outlined in the NICE guidelines and uses recognised diagnostic criteria, which is the approach we take here at Sphere.
  • Why is a Paediatrician so important to have as part of the assessment?
    The NICE guidelines recommend that a Paediatrician or Psychiatrist form part of the autism assessment team. Paediatricians specialise in the health and development of children and their role is to obtain a detailed developmental history. The developmental history covers behavioural patterns but also a medical history, including prenatal, perinatal and family history, past and current health conditions and a physical examination. This allows the Paediatrician to consider other diagnoses or conditions that may coexist with autism. Additionally, by performing a general physical examination, they can look specifically for features that may point to an underlying genetic condition. This is important for getting the diagnosis right, because some children with autism may have other existing conditions that are associated with autism or that may look like autism.
  • I think my daughter is masking, will the assessment pick up on her differences?
    At Sphere, we specialise in assessing girls. We are all skilled in identifying social communication differences and even children and young people that use a high level of masking, usually present with subtle, but noticeable differences that the assessment tools we use will bring to light.
  • I'm a teenager referring myself. How does this work?
    From 16 years of age, you are able to sign your own referral form. Even if your parent/carer signs it, you will need to sign it too. Where appropriate, we will liaise directly with you throughout the assessment process. Following the assessment, we will send you a personalised letter fully explaining the outcome assessment. Assessment fees apply, so please do discuss making a referral with your parent/carer.
  • What happens if my child does not get a diagnosis?
    Not all children/young people who come for an assessment with us will receive a diagnosis of autism, but whatever the outcome, we will always help you better understand your child's strengths and differences.
  • What support do you offer after the assessment?
    After the assessment, we will confirm if a diagnosis of autism has been given, and make recommendations for appropriate support to help your child achieve their full potential, both at home and at school/college. If any further assessments or ongoing support is recommended, we will also help you find the most relevant local services to provide this.
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