Autism Diagnosis in BC

The Process for Children

If you are the parent of a child whom you suspect may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), your first stop is your family doctor. Family doctors cannot diagnose ASD in BC but they can refer you to a specialist (a pediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist) or directly to the BC Autism Assessment Network – BCAAN. This is a network of regionally-based diagnostic teams across BC funded by the Ministry of Health. For general information about the BCAAN see the PHSA’s Autism Services page.

If you would like more specific information about the BCAAN process and the assessment/diagnosis of children who may have autism, you can send an email to [email protected] or call the BCAAN Information Line at 604-453-8394. You can also find helpful information within the PHSA’s Frequently Asked Questions.

Unsure as to whether your worries about your child are reasonable?

There is no medical test for diagnosing ASD. The process is complicated because it is based on a child’s behaviors, not on the results of blood or genetic testing. However, parent concerns are shown by research to be a good indicator that a child is having significant problems. Usually, it is the parents or close family members who first recognize that a child is showing atypical behavior.

For comprehensive information about Autism, and parent resources, a good source is Autism Navigator.

The Rapid Interactive Screening Test for Autism in Toddlers (RITA-T), published in 2023, is an interactive level-2 autism screening test. Early childhood providers, including physicians, nurses, social workers, therapists, psychologists, community-based early intervention and family health center paraprofessionals may be trained to use the RITA-T.

Standards & Guidelines for the Assessment & Diagnosis of Young Children with ASD in British Columbia

Families in BC are fortunate that there are diagnostic standards that are clearly in line with the best of international research and practice. The BC Standards and Guidelines can be found in the Health Services ASD Standards (pdf). An important part of the guidelines are found in:  Section 5.2 Surveillance and Screening. These guidelines are something that you can share with your family doctor as you are discussing whether a referral to BCAAN is a good idea. Your family doctor may know about them but they do have a great deal of information to keep current with and may appreciate you being proactive.

Some of the highlights of this section are:

  • “Numerous studies have established that parental concerns about communication, development and behavior are highly sensitive and specific and should always receive serious consideration.
  • “Studies have demonstrated that most parents of children subsequently diagnosed with ASD first became concerned about their child’s development around 18 months of age.”

What to do if your family doctor does not share your concerns?

At times parents find it difficult to convince their family doctor that they have reason to be concerned. Research is clear that waiting to initiate a referral is not in the best interests of the child. ASD is invisible; affected children are frequently overlooked because they appear intelligent and healthy. Sometimes parents are told that they shouldn’t worry because their child is a boy or more than one language is spoken at home. These are not reasons for a child not developing typically.

Parents should be persistent in asking for a referral. List your concerns in writing. Bring copies of any supportive reports from other professionals, including teachers, speech pathologists or Infant Development Program Consultants. If this is not successful, consider finding a new family doctor who understands the need to address your worries in a timely manner.

How long will I have to wait for my child to be diagnosed?

Waiting times for BCAAN’s regional publicly funded teams vary from region to region and fluctuate across the year. There is a shortage of diagnosticians working in the area of autism across the province. Although priority is given to children under six, the current waitlist is approximately 21 months.

Private Assessments

It is possible for parents to pay for autism assessments privately, however, many of the more experienced private diagnosticians for autism also have waiting lists. In addition, some parents have reported having a private assessment that does not meet the standards of a multi-disciplinary assessment as required by the Ministry for Children and Family Development. Rather than wasting money, it is a good idea to take a copy of the Standards and Guidelines for the Assessment and Diagnosis of Young Children with ASD in BC (pdf) when visiting a prospective diagnostician to make sure they are able to do what is required.

As of July 1, 2017, the Ministry for Children and Family Development (MCFD) has taken over responsibility for individualized information, support and referral services for families in B.C.

If you have questions about diagnosis, please contact:

Autism Information Service British Columbia (AIS BC)
3688 Cessna Drive, Richmond, British Columbia, V7B 1C7

Toll Free Line: 1-844-878-4700
Email – Info: [email protected]

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