Quick referral guides for detection of autism spectrum conditions: the Red Flags project

 This work has been published as:  Allison C, Auyeung B and Baron-Cohen, S (2012) Toward Brief “Red Flags” for Autism Screening: The Short Autism Spectrum Quotient and the Short Quantitative Checklist in 1,000 Cases and 3,000 Controls. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 51:2 202-217


The guides will take the form of a pack of 4 brief checklists (one for each of 4 age groups: toddlers, children, adolescents, and adults). Each of these have been through validation from over 1000 cases and 3000 controls, in each of the 4 age-bands (total n = 4000).

Over the coming year we are planning to evaluate the implementation of the red flag tools within a primary care context (General Practice). Specifically we will evaluate the implementation of the Red Flag Referral Guide for adults, to coincide with the launch in June 2012 of the NICE guideline for the assessment and diagnosis of ASC. We will work closely with the Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service (CLASS), evaluating the number and pattern of referrals across CPFT over a baseline period of one year. We will assess both the diagnostic validity of the tool and examine how the rates and patterns of referrals change following implementation of the tool. In the planning stages of the project we will consult with relevant clinicians (paediatricians, speech and language therapists, GPs, Health Visitors), other NHS staff (commissioners, specialist ASC clinicians), the public and patients (parents of children with ASC and individuals with Asperger Syndrome). We will discuss the issues surrounding the implementation of the Red Flag Referral Guides for ASC for use by health professionals in conjunctions with their patients and caregivers. In a second phase of the project we will evaluate the costs and benefits of referral to an employment service (Prospects) that is dedicated to helping individuals with ASC find employment following diagnosis.


We are working with CPFT, NHS Cambridgeshire, East of England Primary Care Research Network, the  National Autistic Society and other autism charities, such as the Autism Research Trust, Red2Green, Autism Anglia.

We have a database of nearly 4000 individuals with a diagnosis of ASC who have registered at our website as volunteers (www.autismresearchcentre.com). As well as participating in our studies, volunteers have the opportunity to feed back about their experiences of taking part in research and they often put forward ideas for new research.

For more information contact Dr Carrie Allison, Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge cla29@cam.ac.uk


Useful links

Briefing paper:  Detection of Autism spectrum disorder.

CLAHRC BITE No 6 – A national diagnostic centre for adults with Asperger Syndrome

CLAHRC BITE no 7 – The Red Flags tools for the detection of Autism Spectrum Disorder in primary care.