Autism is diagnosed by looking at a child or young person’s social communications and interactions to see whether their behaviour, interests, or activities have any restricted or repetitive patterns.
local offer logo Your observations of your children are crucial and must be listened to when a concern is raised.

Health assessments, such as health visitor drop-ins and home visits enable very early identification of a range of medical, physical and developmental difficulties.

Health services, including paediatricians, GPs and health visitors, will work with you to understand your child’s needs and help access early support. If they think that your child has, or probably has, a special educational need (SEN), they must tell you and us as well.

They must also give you the opportunity to discuss your opinion and let you know about any voluntary organisations that can provide advice or assistance.

This includes educational advice, guidance and any intervention to be put in place at an early point and before the child starts school.

If your child is pre-school age, your health visitor or GP may carry out a ‘screening interview’ called M-CHAT (modified checklist for autism in toddlers). This will not give you a diagnosis, but it is a way of indicating whether your child may be autistic.

If you have a school-age child, it can be useful to make an appointment with the school’s special educational needs coordinator or learning support teacher to discuss your concerns. Teaching staff may have also identified similar behaviours and characteristics and be able to offer support in pursuing a diagnosis for your child.

Once your GP or health visitor or the professional referring is able to identify behaviours and characteristics of autistic spectrum disorder, your child should be referred for a formal assessment.


Children aged 0 to 18 years old will need an initial referral to the Community Paediatric Team at the Mary Sheridan Centre, for a pre-school or school age assessment by a paediatric doctor.

The Community Paediatric Team accepts referrals from:

  • GPs
  • schools
  • child and adolescent mental health services and other agencies such as social care.

If the Community Paediatric Team has concerns based on their assessment and the consented information available from the team that referred the case, then they will refer the child or young person to the Lambeth Autism and Related Disorders Service (ARDS).

The ARDS team will only accepts direct referrals from the:

The ARDS assessment

Assessments are held at the Mary Sheridan Centre, which has disabled access.

The assessment is performed by a multi-professional team which includes:

  • paediatricians
  • specialist speech and language therapists
  • clinical psychologists.

Any individual professional or combination of professionals above may perform the ARD assessment.

Before the assessment

Someone from ARDS will contact you to arrange an appointment.

They will also request information from your child’s school, CAMHS or other agencies involved in their care, but will only do this with your consent.

During the assessment

The ARD assessment requires at least 2hours to complete and includes:

  • a detailed history of communication, social interaction and patterns of behaviours which will be taken from parents or carers
  • an assessment of social interaction, communication, behaviours and play skills using a standard play based observation.

The conclusions of the ARD assessment include:

Diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder

Children diagnosed with autism receive:

  • a comprehensive ARD report
  • an autism pack which provides information on Lambeth services
  • access to any current local workshops and research provided by Guys and St Thomas’.

Need for further ARD assessments

On occasion additional language, learning or school observation assessments are required as part of the ARD evaluation and are performed at another planned session.

No diagnosis of autism

Children not diagnosed with autism receive an ARD report with relevant advice as required and are returned to the care of their referrer (GP, school, CAMHS or other) as indicated.

After the assessment

Families and carers are offered a single opt-in ARD review after which they are discharged from the ARD Service.

Complex cases which require higher specialist input are referred to other services only when indicated following professional and parental consensus by the ARD team.