Why early intervention and diagnosis is key to supporting children with autism

The National Autistic Society has launched a call for the NHS to begin monitoring the waiting times between children being referred with suspected autistic spectrum disorders and being offered a diagnosis.

However, autism is a complicated diagnosis to make. It is important that the right people, with the right training make informed decisions about whether or not a child fits the diagnostic criteria. Those decisions can’t be rushed: they should be based on thorough assessments,  seeing the child in multiple contexts such as the clinic, school and home. The lengthy process and he gathering of contextual information can feel trying for families seeking an answer to why their children might be behaving unusually or not following a typical developmental path, especially if they’ve had to fight to be referred in the first place.

“We understand that it can be incredibly frustrating for families who have often waited weeks, months or years to meet with professionals who can make an assessment and - more importantly - for an appointment, to walk away from that first session ‘empty handed’ with no conclusive diagnosis,” says Dr Sarah Helps, consultant clinical psychologist at the Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

“However, diagnostic assessment is only one point in the process of working with families and professionals to understand a child’s unique profile of strengths and challenges and to put in place interventions that can start to remediate the core deficits of autism. We’re working to help educate primary care professionals about the latest research and insights to enable them to better spot the potential signs of autistic spectrum disorder and refer families to a specialist and to provide effective interventions while families go on the journey to assessment.

The Cavendish Square Group is committed to working to ensure London is a centre of excellence for the mental health and well-being of children and young people. Ensuring that the capital’s care providers draw on the latest evidence-based research to inform the early diagnosis of autism is one of the ways in which we can help to offer London’s children the best start in life. Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental disorder which can be managed, but not cured, however, early interventions can offer real hope to families and allow children to make real progress.

“While families won’t necessarily get an answer on the first day their child is seen, we want families to be reassured that everything possible is being done to expedite the diagnostic process so that every avenue of support and crucially – options for early intervention – can be explored for their child.”

There is a strong evidence base which points towards the fact that early intervention and proper support for children who may be suffering from autism and their families can help remediate the core deficits of autism and support families to feel more able to meet and manage their child’s needs.

Dr Helps will be part of a panel discussing this at the ‘Get In Quick’ conference on the 22 April 2016. For more information about the event, visit: http://tavistockandportman.uk/training/conferences-and-events/get-quick-new-research-autistic-spectrum-condition-and-implications

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