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What is Autism?

Jul 11th, 2020

What is Autism? Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of communication and sensory  differences or challenges a person may have. 

If you are thinking about an autism assessment for your child, knowing some of the communication, social, or sensory-based characteristics that can be common with ASD can help get a timely and accurate diagnosis. As a parent and/or caregiver, you know your child best. Professionals working with your family are valuable partners but never discount the importance of your own observations and intuitions. 

What to Look for? 

Autism is a spectrum and each individual is unique; however, there are relatively consistent characteristics that can help determine if an autism diagnosis may be appropriate. Becoming familiar with Growth and Development Milestones can help you decide if pursuing an autism diagnosis is right for your child.



Communication & Social Interaction: 

  • Speech may be absent or delayed
  • Difficulty using or understanding gestures, such as pointing 
  • Difficulty with abstract concepts and pronouns
    • Example: reversal of pronouns, saying “you” instead of “I” 
  • Language can be uniquely structured or repetitive (echolalia) 
  • Struggles with initiating and/or sustaining conversations 
  • Social cues such as eye contact, facial expressions, body language and gestures can be missed, perceived differently, or used in non-typical ways
  • Relationships with peers can be difficult to develop or maintain
  • Reciprocal communication can be challenging 

Sensory & Self-regulating: 

  • Self-stimulating for regulation such as hand flapping, rocking, chewing, unique vocalizations, or other repetitive movements. This can sometimes be self-injurious. 
  • Routines may be rigidly followed, change or transitions can provoke anxiety
  • Preferences for set routines, familiar surroundings, or predictability
  • Smell, touch, taste, sound, or sight of certain things can produce a hyper or hyperactive response
  • Visual fascinations with lights, movement, or how things work 


What is autism?


How to Pursue an Autism diagnosis in BC 

In BC, publicly funded autism assessments are done through the BC Autism Assessment Network. A referral for an autism assessment is required

Start by seeing your family doctor and ask about pursuing an autism assessment. For children over the age of 6, your family doctor or pediatrician can submit a referral. For children under the age of 6, you can contact your local health authority for additional referral options. If you have requested a referral for an assessment, have been denied, and you feel strongly that further investigation is needed: seek a second opinion. 

Wait times for publicly funded assessments can be long, but pursuing an autism assessment through a private clinician is a possibility. Please note that private assessments do have a cost associated to them.  

Private Assessment 

Private assessments can be a good alternative for those under the age of 18 seeking a shorter wait time. For those over the age of 18, it’s the only option as there are currently no publicly funded assessments specifically for autism in BC. 

Diagnosis of ASD is in-depth and done by a team of qualified professionals working to specific criteria. This team usually includes a psychologist and speech-language pathologist that perform screening tests and gather information from other sources.  

Sources of information used for diagnosis can include but are not limited to: 

  • Audiology Screening 
  • Vision Screening 
  • Occupational Therapist (OT) Assessment  
  • Medical history and general health 
  • Pediatrician 
  • Infant Development 
  • Child Development 
  • Daycare providers 
  • Teachers and other educational support staff 
  • Family or friends 
  • Employers 
  • Social Workers 
  • Councilors 
  • Psychologist 
  • Psychiatrist 
  • Nutritionist/Dieticians 
  • Physiotherapists 

If you are having an assessment done by a private clinician for someone under 18 you will need a Non-BCAAN Diagnosis of ASD form to access Autism Funding.  

If you are moving to BC with a previous diagnosis of ASD for someone under 18 you will need to complete and submit a Confirmation of a Previous Diagnosis 


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