Hundreds of families are waiting years for an autism diagnosis for their child, leaving youngsters totally unsupported at school, says Priory expert
Priory expert Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, a leading child and adolescent psychiatrist, today called for speedier diagnoses across the UK for children with autism, as she warned that the strain on children and their families from delayed assessments risked seriously affecting children’s development, and causing untold anxiety and depression in hundreds of homes.
Her comments come during Autism Awareness Week (26 March – 2 April 2018) where schools, workplaces and individuals, their families and friends take part in activities to raise money and awareness for The National Autistic Society.
Some parents of children with suspected autism are waiting at least 44 months for diagnoses1.
Children in parts of Wales are currently waiting an average of two years for an autism assessment despite a target of six months, according to the BBC.
The Welsh Government has set a target of 26 weeks from referral to diagnosis, but a freedom of information request to local health boards revealed the average wait is 107 weeks and six days in Hywel Dda area, which covers Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.
And it takes an average of 39 weeks in parts of Betsi Cadwaladr area, which covers north Wales, for a child to be seen.
In County Durham, the waiting time for autism diagnosis is two years, a length of time the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said himself was “unacceptable” 2.
Autism experts say every local authority is facing significant diagnosis delays, which causes massive problems to families, and children left without the vital support they need in schools.
Autism affects around 600,000 people in the UK. If you include their families, autism is part of daily life for 2.8 million people3. Leaving autism undiagnosed can lead to further mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Priory Healthcare runs hospitals and clinics which offer a speedy service for families who think their child might have autism, and a further service to help families understand the condition and manage it. Priory Wellbeing Centres offer flexible appointment times, so children do not need always need to be taken out of school for their assessments, or appointments after diagnosis.
Dr van Zwanenberg of Priory’s Woodbourne Hospital in Birmingham and Group Medical Director of Priory’s Wellbeing Centres, 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.
“The psychiatrist will rule out any other illness that can occur alongside autism and will then organise for the patient to have a complete assessment with clinicians trained in autism. The family will have a thorough diagnostic report promptly. The report contains recommendations to help the child after diagnosis, for both the school and family.
“After diagnosis, the Priory offers services to help families understand which behaviours are due to their child's autism and how to manage these, and which behaviours are the child pushing boundaries and how to tackle this.”
While autism is a lifelong developmental disorder, the right support at the right time can make an enormous difference.
Dr van Zwanenberg added: “People are often reassured that the Priory guarantees the clinicians they meet are experts in diagnosing and understanding autism.
“Parents sometimes choose to fund a private assessment themselves as they want to ensure that they, and all professionals working with their child, including teachers, understand their children. The autism diagnosis definitely helps with this.
“Having people around the child who understand them better leads to the child being happier and can prevent the development of other illnesses such as anxiety disorders and depression.”
Diagnosis helps families to take control of their lives and get access to the right specialist care that their child needs. Lack of support can cause a child’s social, educational and communication skills to suffer, she said.
Dr van Zwanenberg added: “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.”
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About Priory Group
The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, stress, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into three divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, and adult care. The Priory Group is owned by NASDAQ-listed Acadia Healthcare, which is recognised as a global leader in behavioural health.