We are concerned by reports of the new referral criteria for children’s autism assessments in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Autistic people and their families across the country are facing unacceptable delays to access a diagnosis and the tailored support they need. 140,000 people were waiting for an autism assessment in England in December 2022¹, a 40% increase in just one year. The vast majority have faced a wait far longer than the three months stipulated by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidance as being the maximum time that someone should have to wait to be seen following a referral².
Early diagnosis and intervention is so important for the development of autistic children. It is in the early years of a child’s life that essential communication, engagement and play skills begin to develop; and it is a crucial stage for families to feel supported, informed, and resilient in meeting the needs of their child – enabling parents to make very different decisions, which directly impact their child’s outcomes. No family, or child, should have to wait until the point of crisis to get the support they need.
Early intervention costs less than remedial action, and rapid and sustained outcomes can be achieved³. We see it every day in our Early Years’ service, funded entirely by grants and donations, which provides free support to families in an effort to bridge the gap in specialist early support created by lengthy delays in assessments and diagnosis. Accessing support, tailored to individual needs, at as early an age as possible, is so important for children with communication difficulties. It can create a successful step into primary education and positively change the educational trajectory for autistic children, reducing the likelihood of future school placement breakdown.
1. National Autistic Society, Autism assessment waiting times, accessed March 2023
2. NICE referral guidelines, Autism spectrum disorder in under 19s: recognition, referral and diagnosis, accessed March 2023
3. Graham Allen MP (2011) Early Intervention: The Next Steps. An Independent Report to Her Majesty’s Government. Accessed Sept 2022 here