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Mar 29

Developing an autism friendly world

It can take years of worry and effort for many children to receive a diagnosis of autism, despite the government saying it should take only 12 weeks. One constituent wrote to me recently to say how, as a parent, she had ‘experienced first-hand ignorance, lack of education and sheer disregard of autism. We have experienced the devastating consequences that lack of support and often total dismissal … sometimes bordering on callousness.’

This World Autism Awareness Week, we need to see the government recognising the issue and taking action on it.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects 1 in 100 people in the UK. It affects the way a person communicates and how they experience the world around them. Autism is described as a spectrum condition. This means that while people with autism, including Asperger’s Syndrome, share certain characteristics, they will be highly individual in their needs and preferences.

Families find that getting their child’s needs assessed, and the right support in an environment which meets their needs isn’t easy. Research by Ambitious about Autism found that 71 per cent of parents said they’d lost sleep over it.

The time taken to get a medical diagnosis for autism can vary greatly, but currently only half of medical assessments are undertaken within the 12 week target.

To get a full diagnosis following an assessment can take longer with 69 per cent of cases having to wait more than a year and 16 per cent having waited more than three years

The average age at which a diagnosis was made was around 5.5 years for children with autism and 11 years for children with Asperger syndrome. This was despite parents first noting concerns regarding their child’s development much earlier; at around 1.5 years for children who later received a diagnosis of autism, and around 2.5 years for children who later received a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.

That isn’t good enough. Too often, children without the right diagnosis end up failing at school before the right support is provided. This has a negative impact on their educational outcomes, their self-esteem and their long-term prospects.

The government needs to deliver a strategy for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities based on inclusivity that also supports teachers and non-teaching staff to offer the right support when it is needed.

I want to do all I can to make our country autism-friendly.