The waiting list for autism assessments has grown by roughly 50% over the past year to nearly 160,000 people.
NICE guidance states that people waiting for autism assessments should wait no longer than 13 weeks (around three months) to be seen following a referral. However, over the past year, only 6% of people were seen within this time frame.
Long waits for autism assessments can be “life-threatening” for some
An autism diagnosis is vital to ensure autistic people get the help and support they need. Without one, many people will struggle at work or home, and are at greater risk of developing mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
Indeed, Dr Louise Morpeth, CEO of Brain in Hand, has warned that while waiting months for a diagnosis can be “disheartening” for some, for others it can be “life-threatening”.
Dr Morpeth says these long waiting times reveal that autistic people are slipping down the government’s list of priorities. This means there is a significant number of people going unheard and unsupported, leading many people to a point of crisis.
Government has failed to meet targets laid out in Autism Strategy
Mel Merritt, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the National Autistic Society, said the figures are “appalling”.
“In 2021, the Government promised in the autism strategy that it would make significant progress in reducing diagnosis waiting times. But the figures released today show that the complete opposite is happening.
“Long waits for assessments can push people to the edge. Autistic people shouldn’t miss out on vital support, or even develop mental health problems and end up in desperate situations, because they haven’t got the timely assessment and help they’re entitled to,” she said.
NAS is now calling for to urgently address the growing autism diagnosis crisis and to immediately invest in rolling out diagnosis services.
“Without urgent long-term funding for diagnosis services, waiting lists will keep increasing. The Government and the new Health Secretary must invest in what autistic people need, and keep the promise it made. Anything less is unacceptable,” she said.
Innovation needed as well as investment in specialist support
However, Dr Morpeth says innovation is needed as well as renewed investment in specialist support.
“What we need is major reform, adopting preventative support strategies, prioritising wellbeing with real-time support, and reducing the stigma around autism through awareness campaigns.
“Within all of this, technology, such as digital apps, wearables and AI, has the innate potential to not only create these pathways to support and awareness but also allow people to flourish in their day-to-day lives.
“The waiting time for tackling this crisis has reached its limit,” she said.