The importance of an early diagnosis of autism in children cannot be underestimated. Priory’s leading child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, has warned that delayed assessments are putting an additional strain on children and their families, affecting children’s development and causing untold anxiety and depression in many homes across the UK.
Long waiting times for diagnosis
For some children who are showing signs of autism, waiting times for diagnoses have taken nearly 4 years, with rural areas in Wales among the most affected.
Welsh Government targets of 26 weeks between a child being referred and receiving a diagnosis is averaging just over 2 years in reality when looking at information from local health boards.
If a child doesn’t receive early access to the right services and support networks, particularly in an education setting, undiagnosed autism can leave them feeling distressed and confused as they develop and get older.
Local authority delays affecting millions
Lengthy waiting times for an autism diagnosis in children isn’t just limited to Wales, with areas of England such as County Durham currently seeing a waiting time of 2 years, which Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said himself was “unacceptable”.
Autism experts believe the majority of local authorities are facing significant delays when diagnosing autism in children, which is causing many children to miss out on vital support.
Alongside distress and disruption to the lives of children and their families while waiting for a diagnosis, it's believed that further mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, can develop if autism isn’t diagnosed early on.
Priory’s flexible autism services
Priory hospitals and clinics offer a flexible and speedy service for families who think their child may have autism, with a helpful follow-up service aimed at ensuring families understand the condition and how to manage it in the future.
Dr van Zwanenberg said: “Families often come to a Priory hospital or wellbeing centre for an autism diagnosis as they can have a swift appointment with a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has expertise in autism.”
This specialist knowledge of autism from our psychiatrists and clinicians helps to rule out any other illnesses that can exist alongside autism, after which a family will receive a full report containing recommendations to help the child both at school and at home.
Autism may be a lifelong condition, but with the right support at the right time, a huge difference can be made so that both the child and their family can achieve whatever they want out of life.
Dr van Zwanenberg concluded: “It is important that families know there are routes to quick diagnosis and support. I believe many families would choose to access a private diagnostic service if they were aware it was available to them.”