autismA new national clinical guideline for Scotland has been published, which makes recommendations for effective assessment, diagnosis and interventions for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The guideline’s recommendations reflect the growing body of evidence that ASD affects boys and girls equally, and can present across all ages.

The prevalence of ASD in children and adults is about 1% of the UK population. Currently ASD is recognised more commonly in boys than girls, at a ratio of about 4:1. There is increasing understanding that ASD is a lifelong condition in which the core features persist while manifesting differently according to different age stages. Depending on the severity of autistic difficulties, ASD may not be evident as a presentation until adulthood, but may also be underdiagnosed due to coexisting conditions, family support or masking of symptoms.

The guideline addresses the challenges that healthcare professionals face with ASD including:

Identifying symptoms of ASD in females, who may present differently to males

Recognising signs and symptoms of ASD in adults, who may not have previously been considered for diagnosis

Recognising that ASD presents across all ages, including first time presentations in older adults (over 65).

The guideline – entitled ‘SIGN 145: Assessment, diagnosis and interventions for autism spectrum disorders’ – is based upon a review of the best available evidence, and is an update of the 2007 guideline, SIGN 98, which solely covered children and young people. It is hoped that the update will reduce variations in practice and improve services for people of all ages with ASD.

Dr Iain McClure, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist for NHS Lothian and chair of the Guideline Development Group, said: “We know that prompt diagnosis and appropriate intervention, specialised educational programmes and structured support may help a person with ASD maximise his or her potential. We believe that use of this guideline by healthcare professionals will help ensure the most effective diagnosis and care for people with ASD, no matter which gender or at what age they present.”

Sara Twaddle, director of evidence for Healthcare Improvement Scotland, added: “This guideline meets the need for recommendations on diagnosis and treatment which reflect the whole age range of people with ASD. The inclusion of adults is in response to the increasing understanding that ASD is a lifelong condition in which the core features persist whilst manifesting differently according to different age stages. Moreover, we know that the number of females presenting with ASD is consistently under-reported due to misdiagnosis. We would encourage all healthcare professionals to use this guideline to help ensure the best care and support possible for anyone with ASD.”

To download a copy of the guideline, visit: www.sign.ac.uk.