For well over a year there’s been a steady trickle of local families with autistic children coming to my weekly surgery. They’ve been having problems getting the all-important diagnosis to unlock vital extra funds and support at school. Some of them are having to wait months or even years to get appointments with experts who can tell if it’s autism or similar-but-importantly-different conditions like Attention Deficit Disorder or Hyperactivity.
It’s cold comfort to know that the problem isn’t unique to North Somerset. There’s a national shortage of the specialised medical professionals who can do the diagnosis properly and, together with a change in the rules, an enormous backlog had built up.
The delay isn’t just stressful for the parents, who want the best for their children just like anyone else. It can mean pupils miss huge chunks of their school careers, because they can’t cope in class without help. Some of them end up marginalised and misbehaving so they’re sent home. Others are scared or overwhelmed. Either way, learning suffers badly and pupils slip further behind.
But that’s just an explanation of the problem. It doesn’t solve it. So I’ve been harrying local health chiefs on parents behalf and, last week, I got a letter confirming some great news. They’ve been given some extra cash to hire extra staff to work through the backlog and, by Christmas, they’re expecting the wait for diagnosis to be down to a few months at most.
It’s great news, and will come as a huge relief to parents struggling to get the system to cope with their children’s needs. This time of year can be stressful enough, with many pupils making the big move into secondary school or, if they’re older, waiting for exam results. At least now we aren’t adding to the pressure of fighting for a diagnosis as well!