Service name change

The Adult Autism Assessment Team was previously known as the Adult Asperger's Syndrome Assessment Service.

This service is for people aged 16 and over. For children aged 15 and under, visit the children's neurodevelopmental assessment page

What is autism?

The definition of autism has changed quite a lot over time. It was once considered a very narrowly defined disorder but is now understood to be a highly diverse condition. Autism is a life-long neurodevelopmental condition which occurs following variations in early brain development.

Autism can bring both challenges and strengths to the individual, and will impact on the way in which individuals think, experience and interact with the world around them.

Although everyone is different, autistic people typically share characteristics in the following areas.

Social communication and interaction

Some autistic people might be unable to speak or have limited speech. Whilst others might have very good language skills but still find certain aspects of social interaction challenging.

Autistic individuals might show differences in their own use of, and their understanding of others’ non-verbal communications, such as eye contact, tone of voice, rate and rhythm of speech, posture or gesture.

Autistic individuals might find it difficult to intuitively read, interpret and predict the thoughts, feelings and intentions of other people. They also might need longer to process information or to answer questions.

Autistic people might show differences in how they use language and engage in conversation. Such as they are often very honest, direct and literal. They may enjoy more meaningful and factual based conversations rather than superficial small talk. Autistic individuals can find it more difficult to pick up on implied meanings, hidden agendas or social rules and tend to prefer others to be more explicit, open and to the point with their communication.

Preference for routine, repetition and special interests

Many autistic individuals have a very strong preference for routine and enjoy having clear rules, systems and order in their lives. They often like to keep things the same and can find change and unfamiliar situations very stressful.

Many autistic individuals can have areas of intense special interest. This will often involve the person having a far greater knowledge in the subject area than most other people. This can also often include having collections of certain objects of interest.

Some autistic people will engage in ritualistic behaviours, other repetitive movements (stimming) or repetitive speech (echolalia). These behaviours can often be calming to an autistic individual when they are feeling stressed, but they can also be behaviours that are simply enjoyable for them.

Many autistic people also experience sensory differences, being more or less sensitive to certain sensory stimuli than others.

Commonly reported sensory differences

  • Being hyper-sensitive to noise, such as struggling with noisy and crowded places or noticing noises and sounds that others do not.
  • Hyper-sensitivity to textures, such as finding certain clothing or materials particularly uncomfortable or even unbearable to wear or touch, or not eating certain foods due to the texture or feel of it in their mouth.
  • Hypo-sensitivity to pain, such as having a much higher pain threshold than others, or perhaps not noticing when they have touched something hot or bruised or cut themselves.

Every autistic person is different and will have different strengths and challenges. Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world in many different ways and there is no one right way to think, learn and behave. The neurodiversity discourse has enabled people to talk positively about autism and view it as a natural way of being, rather than a disorder.


Diagnostic manuals called ICD-11 and DSM-V set out the criteria needed for autism to be diagnosed. Until recently, these manuals set out a number of different categories of autism, such as childhood autism and Asperger syndrome. However, the latest editions of these diagnostic manuals have removed these different diagnostic categories and replaced them with one collective term of autism spectrum disorder.

There are additional specifiers that clinicians can use when making a diagnosis of autism. These help clinicians to describe any associated or additional conditions, such as additional learning or speech and language difficulties that can sometimes occur alongside autism. They can also help clinicians to give an indication of the level of need for any support an individual might have because of their autism. However, it is important to note that individuals’ needs can change over time, and can also vary depending on the situation or environment they are in.

Everyone who already has a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome or other autistic spectrum condition will retain their original diagnosis. However, moving forward autism spectrum disorder will become the most commonly given new diagnosis by clinicians, where appropriate.

The adult autism assessment team

The Cornwall adult autism assessment team was previously known as the Asperger’s syndrome assessment service. We offer an autism assessment service for adults (aged 16 or older) who are registered with a GP surgery in Cornwall and are not currently open to or in need of other specialist services such as a community mental health team or learning disability service.

For those individuals who are already open to or in need of the community mental health team or learning disabilities services, an assessment for autism should be sought from that service as part of their care package, if this is considered clinically appropriate.

Formal diagnosis

Not everyone with autism will wish to have a formal diagnosis. However, there are a number of reasons why a diagnosis can be helpful for some people. For example, some people find receiving a positive diagnosis can come as a relief, because it allows them to learn more about themselves and helps them to understand why they may have felt different and experienced certain difficulties in their life. Having a diagnosis can also help other people in the individual’s life to understand and empathise more easily with some of the differences and difficulties they might experience.

In addition, a diagnosis can facilitate access to more appropriately tailored advice and support from services. It can help to ensure that appropriate adaptations are made in the workplace, where needed, so that autistic individuals can thrive in employment. Having a diagnosis can also lead to individuals connecting with other autistic people, where they can share experiences around how to overcome challenges, and recognise and celebrate the many strengths and talents that come with autism.

Autism assessments

The overall aim of an assessment with us is to help individuals increase their understanding of any differences and difficulties that they may have experienced throughout their lifetime, as well as to highlight areas of personal strength and ability. Within this, we will be looking specifically to explore whether a diagnosis of autism would be an appropriate explanation for the experiences that have been described by the individual.

It is important to know that there are several possible outcomes to an assessment with the Cornwall adult autism assessment team.

We may:

  • confirm a diagnosis of autism
  • advise that autism is not felt to be an appropriate diagnosis
  • not be able to offer a conclusive outcome

If we can't offer a conclusive outcome, this is because often individuals can present with a number of characteristics that are common to autism, but that might actually be attributable to different causes such as difficult life experiences or mental health issues.

Whatever the outcome, the Cornwall adult autism assessment team will always try to offer helpful suggestions and support recommendations, if needed.

For more information about the assessment process, please see the easy read assessment process document in the resources section below.

Please note, if you are referred to the Cornwall adult autism assessment team, your GP will automatically be made aware of any contact that you have with the service.

Assessments for autism

If you would like to be referred to the adult autism assessment team, you should discuss this with your GP. Your GP can complete the adult autism assessment team practitioner referral form if they feel it is an appropriate way forward for you.

It is important that the referral form includes examples of any difficulties and differences you experience, and clearly outlines why an assessment is felt to be necessary. You may therefore find it helpful to make some notes before your GP appointment to help you prepare for your conversation with them.

The adult autism assessment team currently have a waiting time of over 24-months for diagnostic assessments. We are currently a diagnosis-only service. We do not have the ability to offer support, manage risk or coordinate care for people who are open to the service and awaiting assessment, or for those who have been diagnosed by the team.

If you are struggling to cope or require more urgent support please discuss this with your GP, or visit our mental health crisis page.

Practitioner referrals

The adult autism assessment team offers an autism assessment service for adults (aged 16 and over) who are registered with a GP surgery in Cornwall. The team are unable to accept referrals for people who are currently open to or in need of other specialist services such as community mental health or learning disability services. They are also unable to accept referrals for people who present a risk to themselves or others.

For people who are already open to or in need of community mental health team or learning disability services, an assessment for autism should be sought from that service as part of their care package, if clinically appropriate.

The team are a diagnostic only service and are not able to manage risk or coordinate care for those open to our service, including those on our waiting list.

COVID-19 update

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have made some service delivery changes in order to protect our patients and workforce.

We have set up alternative ways of carrying out our assessments, using telephone and video appointment systems, where this is possible and agreed with patients. If patients decline telephone or video assessment appointments, they are able to remain on our waiting list until a face-to-face appointment is available.

Please note, the adult autism assessment team is only commissioned to provide diagnostic assessments. We are unable to offer any support, to manage risk or coordinate care for any individuals open to our service, including those on our waiting list.

During these unusual circumstances we apologise for any additional wait times or delays.