Autism Diagnosis in BC

How to get a diagnosis of Autism for your child in British Columbia (BC) 

Receiving an Autism diagnosis can provide you with better insight into your child and help you access the right supports. While receiving a diagnosis may come with many different emotions for parents or caregivers, an early diagnosis of Autism can lead to earlier and therefore more effective intervention. In British Columbia (BC), an Autism diagnosis gives your family access to provincial funding which can be put towards therapeutic interventions and necessary equipment. Qualifying services include Speech-Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and others.

This guide will walk you through the two-step process to getting a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in British Columbia (BC) through public health.


Step 1: Family doctor referral

If you suspect that your child may have Autism, the first step is to speak to your family doctor. Family doctors cannot diagnose Autism in BC, but they can either:

  • refer you to a specialist (such as a paediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist)
  • or directly to the BC Autism Assessment Network (BCAAN) for an assessment.

BCAAN is a network of regionally based diagnostic teams across BC funded by the Ministry of Health.

It is recommended to be prepared for your appointment with your family doctor. Bring a written list of your specific concerns and observations, as well as any letters or reports that you may have from other professionals that have worked with your child such as a Speech-Language Pathologist or a teacher. Sometimes parents are given reassurance that the concerns that they have about their child are unfounded. Common misconceptions include "Boys learn to talk later", "It's just a phase" or "Let's just wait and see". However, the research shows that delaying a diagnosis is not in the best interest of your child. You are your child's biggest advocate so trust your gut and advocate for the referral. Remember, you know your child best! It is your right to insist on a referral or get a second opinion.


Step 2: The BCAAN Assessment

BCAAN provides free diagnostic assessments for children up to age 19. Once your doctor initiates a referral, BCAAN will coordinate an assessment as close to where you live as possible. At the time of writing (July 2023), the overall wait time in BC is approximately 80.6 weeks. Find current BCAAN wait times here. 

The assessment appointment will take about 3 hours. You will meet your qualified clinician who may be a paediatrician, psychiatrist or psychologist. There will be two parts to the appointment:

  1. A detailed parent interview where your clinician will ask you about your child's history and development. This portion can take about an hour or more.
  2. An interview with your child/adolescent as well as an interactive observation session that uses toys and games appropriate to your child's age or level of development.

Once both parts are completed, your clinician will decide if your child needs additional assessments to help make a diagnosis. These may include psychology, speech-language pathology, or a medical evaluation. In many cases, no additional appointments will be required, and your clinician will discuss the results of the assessment with you on the same day.

If your child has a positive diagnosis for Autism, you will be given a form called the Clinical Outcome Form at the end of the appointment. This is the form that you will need to provide when you apply for the provincial funding. You and your referring doctor will also receive a formal diagnostic report within 4-6 weeks.

BCAAN provides assessments and recommendations for all children and youth that they see, regardless of the final diagnosis. If a child is not diagnosed with autism, he or she may still need help. They will make recommendations, and will help you to get the services your child needs, including developmental, mental health, education, and social supports, among others.

Going through this journey with your child can be long and filled with emotion. Remember, you don't have to wait for your assessment appointment before seeking support for your child. If you have concerns about your child's language development, you can seek the support of a Speech-Language Pathologist right away. The earlier your child receives the supports they need, the better the outcomes!

Does your child need support?

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How to get a diagnosis of Autism for your child in British Columbia (BC)