Children's 'futures at stake' as they wait years for autism diagnosis

PUBLISHED: 07:16 06 October 2017 | UPDATED: 09:19 06 October 2017

Guy Kingston.

Guy Kingston.

Archant

Children with suspected autism in North Somerset are waiting years in most cases for a diagnosis, which can have a 'terrible impact' on them and their families.

There is an eight-stage process for children to be diagnosed by Weston Area Health Trust (WAHT) starting with a referral to community paediatrics, followed by various assessments.

Figures obtained by the Mercury show families on average are waiting more than a year to have their case reach a multi-agency meeting, where a diagnosis will be made.

In a case in May, one child had waited 101 weeks they reached the multi-assessment meeting stage – but this is just one part of a lengthy process.

Guy Kingston, the former chairman of a forum for parents whose children have special education needs (SEN), said: “The impact on children is absolutely terrible because there is no provision for children when they don’t have a diagnosis.

“The reality is, as soon as you get a diagnosis, your child gets disability living allowance, which can be put towards specialist equipment.

“The support in school also kicks in in a much more substantial way. Children’s futures are at stake.”

Weston’s MP John Penrose said parents have been contacting him for the past few months about the long delays they are experiencing.

He said: “I’ve been busy meeting with both North Somerset Council’s SEN team and the local mental health trust to find out what’s been going wrong, and how to fix it.

“The mental health trust says it is about to make changes which should halve waiting times, and the SEN team needs to clear a backlog caused by a national switchover.

“I’m going to be keeping an extremely close eye on this, to make sure the expected improvements are delivered in practice.”

Dr Trisha Tallis, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at WAHT, said it is working hard to resolve the situation.

She said: “What we have seen here and across the country is an increase in referrals which puts pressure on access and waiting times. As a small service we’re also less resilient to gaps in cover.”

WAHT is looking to speed up meetings for children who do not need additional assessments.

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