The wait times for an autism diagnosis for Canadian children are substantial, new research finds, with the time from when a doctor first makes a referral to a specialist until diagnosis taking an average of eight months.

Much of that time is spent on the actual assessment, which can be time-consuming, the study found.

The study was led by Dr. Melanie Penner, a developmental pediatrician at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto.

Her team created an online survey that was conducted through the Canadian Paediatric Society, asking certain pediatricians across Canada who were most likely to encounter children with autism how long it took to get diagnoses. In all, 57 pediatricians responded.

The survey found that wait times averaged eight months from referral to communication of the diagnosis to families. They found that the time it took to conduct the assessment was the single biggest determinant of the wait time for diagnosis. The province where the children were tested and the type of assessor they used were less important factors.

The findings were presented Thursday at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR), the world's largest scientific gathering on autism research.

The authors say their results highlight “the need for efficient assessment practices.”

They note that these wait times typically occur during an important window for social learning and the delays could result in suboptimal developmental outcomes.

Last month, Penner appearing on CTV’s Canada AM, said autism therapies such as IBI (Intensive Behaviour Intervention) and the less intensive ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) tend to be more successful if started early.

"We know that these interventions are more effective at younger ages," she said. "We may be missing a window of time when (their) ability to learn those things is higher than it may be at older years."

Because there are no neurological tests for autism, diagnosis experts focus on two areas: social interaction and communication; as well as restricted or repetitive behaviours.