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Improving autism assessment and awareness

A film to help frontline professionals identify the signs of autism in children.
A film to help frontline professionals identify the signs of autism in children.

Our researchers improved professional practice of autism using a coordinated set of diagnostic and awareness-raising tools.

Early referral for diagnosis of autism maximises better outcomes for children; however, the varied and often subtle manifestations of autism are difficult to recognise, both in community settings and by specialists.

Researchers from the Wales Autism Research Centre (WARC) adapted and enhanced the widely used Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO) to create robust algorithms for autism diagnosis. The research created the first algorithm to incorporate criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) that could be used within a single diagnostic interview method.

The researchers also created an Abbreviated DISCO DSM-5 algorithm item set, which is a shortened version of the DISCO with equally high levels of specificity and sensitivity. They also created a shorter Signposting Set, which they transformed into a quiestionnaire. These coordinated set of tools can be used in both diagnostic and community settings.

The Birthday Party

View the Birthday Party Film on the website

The Birthday Party, based on the Signposting Set - helps frontline professionals to identify the signs of autism in children,

The film highlights five ‘SIGNS’ of autism by focusing on three autistic children attending a birthday party. It demonstrates how the same signs can show themselves in different ways and that no two children will have an identical presentation of the signs

The purpose of the film is to help increase autism awareness in professionals, including the identification of concerns that may be relevant for referral. It is suitable for professionals working in education, healthcare and social services, as well as for informing the general public.

The film is based on research evidence developed at WARC and can be viewed on the Welsh Government’s Autism Wales website, which is a site dedicated to improving the lives of autistic people in Wales.

Kids birthday party
The Birthday Party

The five SIGNS of autism are differences or difficulties in:

  1. Social interaction and verbal communication
  2. Imagination
  3. Gestures or non-verbal communication
  4. Narrow range of interests, routines and repetitive behaviours
  5. Sensory responses

Impact of the Birthday Party film

Welsh Government

The film has been adopted by the Welsh Government’s National Autism Team and was used as part of their Learning About Autism programme, which aims to raise awareness and understanding of autism in educational settings, as well as part of their Clinicians’ toolkit.

Teaching and healthcare training

Examples of its use include teacher training in Italy, Australia, Spain, The Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania and Vietnam, and training healthcare professionals in a wide variety of countries including Kenya and Mali. The film has also been made available to all Italian nursery and kindergarten teachers through the Istituto Superiore di Sanita (leading technical-scientific body of the Italian Health Service).

Use in the wider community

The Birthday Party film has been included in the Royal College of General Practitioners’ ASD online toolkit and in specialist training by the National Autistic Society. It has also been part of the Autism Essentials for Psychiatrists training course e-resources, developed by Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the Centre for Autism Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Intellectual Disability.

Our achievements were recognised in a Cardiff University Innovation and Impact Award in 2019. For further information, read our summary report of the development and impact of the film.

Using the Birthday Party film

The film has been translated into Welsh, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Spanish and French and is freely available on the Welsh Government’s 'The Birthday Party' website. If you would like to use the film in training then please complete a permission form available on the website.

The development of the film has been funded by the ESRC and the Welsh Government.

Birthday Party logo

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Research partners