NICE calls for autism improvements

The NHS needs to improve how it diagnoses autism in youngsters if it is to cope with the increasing demand on services, says new draft guidance from NICE.

The Institute has called for healthcare professionals in the NHS to work closer together and with other key services to ensure patients receive the care and services they need.

Dr Fergus Macbeth, Director of the Centre for Clinical Practice at NICE said an early and correct diagnosis “can bring a profound sense of relief to some children and young people”.

NICE hopes to publish its final guideline in September once the consultation period has ended.

The draft clinical guideline includes:

  • A local strategy group established, with representation from child health and mental health services, education, social care, the voluntary sector and parents or carers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • A multi-professional team should lead the referral and diagnosis of individuals with possible ASD; including a paediatrician, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, a speech and language therapist, a clinical or educational psychologist, and an occupational therapist. The team should undertake the diagnostic assessments where appropriate and advise healthcare professionals about referrals.
  • Every child or young person who is to undergo an assessment should have an appointed case coordinator from the ASD Team, who will be their single point of contact and signpost them, and their parents/carers, to appropriate services and support.
  • Healthcare professionals should always consider the possibility that the child/young person may have another condition with similar features to ASD. If an alternative diagnosis is suspected, they should undertake the appropriate assessments and referrals.
  • Following diagnosis, the ASD Team should create a profile of the child or young person, detailing their strengths, skills, impairments and needs. This will support their education, communication, behavioural, emotional and family needs. With consent from the parent or carer, the profile should also be shared directly with relevant services.

At least 1 in 100 children under the age of three has a form of ASD with 70% of individuals meeting the diagnostic criteria for at least one other psychiatric disorder.