Child of the North and the N8 Research Partnership have been commissioned, alongside Anne Longfield’s Centre for Young Lives, to release 12 reports throughout 2024. These reports will highlight the experience of children and young people (CYP) in the UK, where there are challenges, and make recommendations for a way forward – for how systems can be changed to build a better UK for CYP. The first report in this series, ‘An evidence-based plan for addressing the autism assessment and support crisis’, has now been released!
The report starts by providing some key figures on the current state of autism diagnosis and support in the UK: Thousands of young people are victim to a crisis in autism assessment and waiting months (or potentially years) for support in education and health services. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a 306% increase in the number of children waiting to be assessed for autism. Only one in ten children receive appointments within 13 weeks of referral, and one in four parents have waited over three yours for support for their child. Children from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to be identified as having autism, and often experience more difficulties.
Poor health and education outcomes will likely result for autistic children who do not have proper support and there will be increasing pressure on systems and costs if change does not happen. However, there are actions that can be put in place to alleviate the current crisis. This report proposes 3 key recommendations for assessing for autism and supporting young autistic people:
- Build effective partnerships between education and health professionals for assessing and supporting autistic children
- Provide and extend access to mandatory Continuing Professional Development courses to improve understanding and awareness of autism
- Create formal partnerships at a local authority level comprising sector leaders to oversee a prioritised ward-level approach.
The report authors promote a ‘needs-led’ approach to autism – providing appropriate support for CYP with neurodivergent traits, without requiring a formal diagnosis first. Planning for diverse needs and providing support should be standard practice across education settings. The report offers some suggestions for what changes can be made by schools, such as relaxing uniform policies surrounding sensory issues; removing the bell between classes for a calmer environment, and having a consistent structure for the school day.
The report describes a number of successful initiatives implemented within the school gates to reduce autism assessment times and promote early intervention. It also highlights Limpsfield Grange, the UK’s only school solely for autistic girls, as an example of what “good” looks like in autism education, and describes the experiences of many Limpsfield Grange pupils, along with what they think needs to change within health and education systems.
The report goes on to provide NHSE guides on how best to implement the recommendations made. It lays out the role of educational psychologists in working with schools to assess autistic CYP’s needs and develop plans for support. It concludes with a call to action from CAER’s Research and Implementation Fellow team: “We need a government who will put CYP at the forefront of their decision making and deliver the recommendations given by this report. We need system change and we need it now.”
You can read the full report here.