Impact for patients

Case Study

Diagnosing autism in adulthood

Autism affects 1% of the child and adult population, costing the UK approximately £28 billion each year. Diagnosing people with autism requires a specialist assessment and waiting lists for these clinics are sometimes months or even years. Many patients are overlooked or misdiagnosed, seeing a variety of clinical specialists before they receive a diagnosis. 

The Cambridge team were keen to improve the referral and so developed a new screening tool called the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) for front-line clinicians and social care professionals.

The AQ is a questionnaire designed by the researchers to evaluate how many autistic traits a person has. If a patient’s scores are high, the tool alerts clinical staff to make a referral for a full assessment. It was first developed in 2001 and was one of the first metrics of the autism spectrum. The full questionnaire has 50 items but the Cambridge team produced a brief version of just 10 items, known as the AQ-10.

This new diagnosis tool provides a quick but reliable indicator that someone may potentially have undiagnosed autism, therefore ensuring their referral for a diagnosis is both more accurate and quantitative, not just based on opinion.  Ensuring that the right patients are referred to the specialist clinics means a better use of clinic time and a quicker journey from the referrer to the final assessment.

Once diagnosed, the patient can then be helped to access the support and therapies they require. The AQ has been used widely in research studies, and in 2013 NICE guidelines it was recommended for use with adults with suspected autism or Asperger Syndrome. The tool is now used widely both nationally and internationally.