Autistic children risk delays to diagnosis due to COVID-19 lockdowns

Autistic children risk delays to diagnosis due to COVID-19 lockdowns
© iStock/ThitareeSarmkasat

New research has shown that more than 128,000 children and their families risk being ‘forgotten’ by the system as lockdown causes delays in autism diagnosis.

Research conducted by Autism Parenting Magazine has revealed that many children face being mis- or even undiagnosed due to lockdowns over the last six months, as experts warn wait times for key appointments will rise due to vital services being shut during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research shows that due to these closures and limited resources, parents are finding it more difficult to spot signs of autism, and harder to access routes of diagnosis when they do.

A checklist for concerned parents

Figures released by the NHS in 2019 suggested that some patients who were thought to have autism waited over 19 weeks for their first mental health appointments, with an average wait time in 10 out of 25 English health trusts of 137 days, against a target of 91 days. With limitations being placed on health care services due to coronavirus measures, this number may spike further.

According to Google, searches for ‘early signs of autism in babies’ is also up by 200% and ‘early signs of autism’ up 100% since April. To help concerned parents, Autism Parenting Magazine has put together a checklist that can help identify early signs of the condition.

Mark Blakely, founder of Autism Parenting Magazine said: “Parents of children with suspected autism often struggle to pinpoint signs that mean their child is not neurotypical, and without schools, teachers, friends and family to help parents during lockdowns, these children risk further delays to diagnosis. Often, it’s a lack of confidence and understanding of the signs parents are seeing which leads to delays in starting the diagnosis journey, but now they’re having to cope with the added pressure of appointment and referral meetings cancelled or postponed even when they do start the process.

“Raising an autistic child means increased outgoings, for therapies, medication, equipment, and support such as respite care, while often having to reduce working hours over a child’s lifetime. It’s a scary prospect for parents, even when they feel well supported and listened to in their concerns. Early diagnosis can save autistic children and their families a lot of anguish and heartache, as well as time and money in the long run, and we would ask the Government to prioritise reducing waiting times for these families in order to give them that.”

Without traditional assessments through in-person observation families cannot access vital support and services to help cope with the demands of raising an autistic child, both financially and emotionally.

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