Autism spike not met by resources: MLA

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The Western Trust has said a major hike in demand has led to it significantly overshooting assessment targets for children with autism.

The health authority has revealed that at the end of August the longest wait for an assessment within its Children’s Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) service was 54 weeks. The target is 13 weeks.

Equally, the WHSCT was exceeding its 13 weeks intervention target with the longest wait estimated to be 36 weeks.

“Given the significant increase in demand for Autism services the WHSCT is currently not meeting the assessment and intervention waiting time targets,” it confirmed in response to a Freedom of Information request.

SDLP health spokesman Mark H. Durkan said the details were not surprising.

Earlier this year the ‘Journal’ reported how cases of Autism and Asperger Syndrome increased by almost 50 per cent in the Western Trust area over the past five years.

“These figures are a glaring and damning confirmation of the challenges many individuals, families and Autism groups have been trying to overcome for years,” said Mr. Durkan.

“It is evident that these challenges are becoming even more difficult. A huge increase in the number of referrals will inevitably lead to increases in waiting times for assessment.

“An increase in diagnoses will lead to higher demand for and delays in accessing intervention and support. What seems clear is that these increases have not been met by an increase in resources for Autism. With the passage of the Autism Bill by the Assembly,there was the promise of enhanced support and services. However,every day families are seeing little evidence of this,” he added.

A Trust spokesperson said: “The demand for autism assessment and intervention for both children and adults within the Western Trust has increased significantly and this trend continues. Current resource does not meet the level of demand within the Trust and this has been highlighted to the HSCB and DoH.”

The Trust said its ASD Diagnostic Services for children up to 18 years was provided in keeping with Regional Autistic Spectrum Disorder Network (RASDN) ‘Six Steps of Autism Care’ guidelines.

It said: “The WHSCT ASD Service multidisciplinary assessment team includes Clinical Psychology, Community Paediatrics, Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Social Work, Autism Practitioner and Specialist Health Visitors. Within the WHSCT ASD Service, due to a sustained increase in referrals over this past number of years we are currently assessing at 54 weeks as at August 31, 2018.”