Three-and-a-half year wait for autism diagnosis ‘far too long’, ex-cabinet minister

People are waiting “far too long” for an autism diagnosis, a Tory former Cabinet minister said as she urged people to show more awareness of the disability.

Dame Cheryl Gillan said diagnosis waiting times were “absolutely critical” but that on average children were waiting more than three-and-a-half years to be diagnosed.

Leading a backbench business debate in the Commons where several MPs wore purple badges to mark Autism Awareness Week, Dame Cheryl (picutred) said: “They’re a critical milestone for people on the spectrum and people are having to wait far too long for autism diagnosis.

“Research by Goldsmiths and City University show that on average for children the wait for an autism diagnosis is over three-and-a-half years, whilst adults receive a diagnosis around two years.”

She went on to suggest that people who play a role in public services should be trained to “appreciate the challenges faced by autistic people”.

“I have a personal aim that all people that play a role in public services, no matter where in this country, should be trained to appreciate the challenges faced by autistic people – in the workplace, in schools, on public transport and in other public spaces,” Dame Cheryl told MPs.

“If we all show just a little more awareness of how autism can affect others then we can make great strides in making autistic people feel at home and more welcome in all our communities.”

She also pointed to figures which show that an “alarming” number of people – 79% of autistic people and 70% of their families – feel socially isolated.

“At a time when our Prime Minister has put in place a Minister for Loneliness we mustn’t forget the isolation that can be caused for autistic people by behaviour or a lack of understanding in this area.

“And half of autistic people and families sometimes don’t even go out because they’re worried how people will react to autism, and 28% of autistic people have been asked to leave a public space because of their behaviour associated with their autism.”

SNP mental health spokeswoman Dr Lisa Cameron told MPs that access to diagnosis was still a “postcode lottery”.

She added: “We hear this issue raised repeatedly in evidence to the health select committee and I’m aware from my own constituency surgeries that there are still barriers for families, for children and for adults in attaining diagnosis and attaining that within an appropriate time-span.”

Health minister Caroline Dinenage, replying for the Government, said: “Those who have spoken today are absolutely right to say we need to understand more about autism across all sectors of society, all parts of government, and I share their determination to address this really important issue.”

Ms Dinenage said the autism strategy introduced in 2010 has “done much to improve” the lives of those living with autism but acknowledged there is “still much to be done”.

She later told MPs: “We all want to live in a world and a country where autism is never a barrier to the opportunity afforded to others.

“World Autism Awareness Week enables us to continue to keep this issue high on the agenda and in the minds of policymakers, professionals and members of the public alike, where it should be.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Clive Gee / PA Wire.