Autism: diagnosis and support

Autism is a condition that can affect behaviour, emotions and communication. It's sometimes referred to as autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) or autistic spectrum condition (ASC).

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This page has been medically reviewed by Stephen Bradford, Director of Clinical Services and Neurodiversity Lead in July 2022.

Autism support at Priory

Autism is something you’re born with; it’s not a medical condition with a ‘cure’. As such, we don’t offer ‘treatment’ for autism at Priory. Rather, we aim to provide people with the support they need to manage things a bit better.

At Priory, we offer private autism assessments and diagnoses for both adults and children. We can also provide group or individual therapy for people who’ve received a diagnosis of autism, helping them to manage any of their associated challenges. These can include things like anxiety, rigid thinking or any other negative emotions. Our private autism services can either be self-funded, or funded through private medical insurance.

We also take referrals directly from the NHS and local authorities for our services. We offer specialist inpatient autism and learning disability support in partnership with the NHS, through our nationwide network of dedicated hospitals. We offer complete care pathways across our medium and low secure services, rehabilitation and recovery (R&R) services and community rehabilitation.

Our care pathways also continue into our range of community-based autism services, which include residential services and supported living accommodation. Our bespoke residential and supported living services provide support for autistic adults within safe and homely environments. These services can be funded via the NHS or local authorities.

At Priory, we also have specialist assessment and transitions directors for complex autism. These directors work with our NHS partners to help to place autistic people with complex needs within our sites across the UK. Their responsibilities include developing personalised care plans to facilitate smooth transitions into community-based services.

People accessing our NHS and local authority-funded autism services must be referred by a referring organisation. Our private autism services can be accessed directly. You can find out more about our funding options here.

Autism lasts for a lifetime – it’s not something that can be cured. However, autistic people are still perfectly able to lead fulfilling and happy lives. Getting a diagnosis is key to accessing the best support for individual needs. Some autistic people will need support from a parent or carer every day, whereas others will need little or no support. Get in touch today to find out how Priory can help.

What is autism?

Autism is a complex condition that can range in severity. This is why autism is known as a ‘spectrum condition’. If you're autistic, you can be anywhere on the spectrum. Many autistic people don't need support to live a fulfilling life, while others may need different levels of support.

Medical understanding of autism has developed in recent years. It used to be said that autism had lots of different subtypes, including Asperger syndrome (also known as high-functioning autism) and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). However, more recently, these subtypes have been categorised within the overarching term, autism.

Some autistic people may experience challenges or differences in some areas of their life, in comparison to people who are considered to be ‘neurotypical’. These can include areas such as:

  • Communication
  • Social skills and socialising with others
  • Behaviours (often exhibiting repetitive behaviours)
  • Speech (some autistic people are non-verbal)
  • Sensory processing

It’s important to recognise that being on the autism spectrum doesn’t mean you have a disease or are unwell. It just means that you process information and see the world differently.

Autism diagnosis

In most cases, autistic people receive a diagnosis in childhood or adolescence. However, others don’t get diagnosed with autism until they reach adulthood.

Priory has the expertise to provide autism assessments and diagnoses. Our diagnostic process for autism not only allows us to identify when someone may have autism, but to provide subsequent services to help people and their families understand their diagnosis.

For many, receiving an autism diagnosis can bring much needed relief and clarity. It means that you’re able to develop a better understanding of yourself and how you relate to the world. It also means that you can start taking steps towards being better able to manage any challenges you’re facing.

Autism signs and symptoms

It’s important to understand that no two people on the autism spectrum will have the same characteristics. The signs of autism can vary from person-to-person and also depend on the severity of your autism - that is, where you are on the spectrum. For example, if you have autism without a learning disability, you may just have certain traits that make you seem a bit different, whereas others with more severe or complex autism may have traits that are much more pronounced.

Signs of autism tend to be noticed in early childhood. Children may have difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication such as:

  • Using limited or no speech even after the age of 2
  • Spending long periods of time fascinated in self-play or with a particular part of a toy, such as the wheel of a toy car
  • Not responding to their name at an appropriate age
  • Having only a small variety of facial expressions
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Difficulty with physical contact from parents and relatives
  • Not smiling when other people smile at them

Autistic children may also exhibit repetitive movements such as rocking backwards and forwards or flapping their hands.

In addition, it’s important to understand that autism can be different in boys and girls. In some cases, autistic girls may hide their feelings, seem quieter and appear to be able to cope better in social situations. This can make autism harder to spot in girls than in boys.

The above can all be early signs of autism and often become more apparent in school-aged children when social interaction becomes increasingly complex. However, for some, autistic traits may not be recognised until adulthood.

Ultimately, autism can affect your ability to relate to others and the world around you, and process information. You may be hyper-sensitive to sensory stimulation such as sounds, smells, taste, textures or colours. You may also prefer predictability, rituals and a fixed daily routine, and find that you become upset or distressed when this changes. Autism is also sometimes characterised by repetitive behaviours, causing you to do or think the same things over and over again.

You may also experience some social challenges if you have autism:

  • Social communication – challenges with processing language, verbal intonation and tone, figures of speech and literal thinking
  • Social interaction – challenges with understanding non-verbal cues, unspoken social rules, forming friendships, making eye contact and appreciating social contexts. Autistic people can be 'socially awkward' and find many unwritten social rules difficult to manage
  • Social imagination - experiencing challenges in viewing situations from another’s perspective, predicting and understanding feelings and reactions, and foreseeing consequences of events and actions

What causes autism?

The causes of autism are currently the focus of a significant amount of active research. Experts believe that autism may be caused by the way the brain develops before, during, or soon after birth, as well as having genetic and environmental influences.

Although the exact cause of autism is unknown, it’s understood that there are a range of inherited, environmental and other factors, which are linked to this complex condition.


Research exploring the causes of autism suggests that particular genes you inherit as a child could play a role in how likely you are to have autism. Having immediate family members such as siblings or parents who are autistic can also increase the chances of you having autism.


While genes may make a person prone to autism, some environmental triggers are also thought to play a role. Even if a child has a genetic predisposition for autism, it’s entirely possible that specific interactions with their environment may dictate whether they ultimately show related traits.

These environmental triggers may include:

  • Being born prematurely
  • Being exposed to substances such as alcohol or drugs while in the womb


Autism assessment information

Private medical insurance

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers. All of the services that we offer at Priory can be funded through private medical insurance. This includes:

  • Mental health treatment
  • Addiction treatment
  • Eating disorder treatment

All clients will have access to our highly skilled and accredited clinicians, many of whom are published experts in their fields of treatment. Whatever your requirements, we are committed to working with you to get your life back on track.

Registered and approved provider

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers.

Mental health support near me

We provide mental health support throughout the country, meaning you can access the support you need in a convenient location. To find your nearest centre, please search below.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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