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GPs 'don't spot signs of autism'

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Most doctors are having problems spotting some of the signs of autism, according to a National Audit Office survey

The NAO says that 80% of GPs polled for the report Supporting people with autism through adulthood believe they need more training and guidance to identify and manage those with autism more effectively. The survey found that due to a lack of specific services, many doctors do not know where to refer people with autism.

The report says: ‘64% told us that they referred adults with suspected high-functioning autism to adult mental health services, and 19% to learning disability services. (A total of) 12% were not sure where they should refer such patients, and only 10% reported that they would refer them to a specialised autism diagnostic service.’

Meanwhile, half of the estimated 400,000 adults in England with autism may not be getting treatment because they do not have a learning disability. This is due to the fact that most services are geared towards people with illness, physical or learning disabilities and mental-health problems.

The report says: ‘Providing specialised support could improve outcomes for this group of people and their carers, and potentially enhance value for money, as the costs of establishing such support could be outweighed over time by overall savings.’

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said: ‘Many adults with autism are slipping through the net.

‘They do not fit into any particular category for which services are provided and therefore fail to qualify for any help whatsoever.’

It is estimated that there are around 400,000 adults with autism in England, half of which have a learning disability.

The NAO study has found that adults with ‘high functioning’ autism, those without a learning disability, are particularly affected by poor support services.

Health and social care services are traditionally catered for patients with learning disabilities, and so those with an IQ of above 70 have difficulties accessing the services they require.

The report calls for specialist teams for supporting adults with high functioning autism and more collaboration between clinical, social and employment services.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I suspected my young son had Asperger Syndrome and one GP told me "Not another newfangled syndrome...". Thankfully, his partner GP was more sympathetic and admitted he had no clue about it but what could he do to help. He tried several referrals that were rejected, including a meeting with the PCT to try to get an assessment for diagnosis but that was rejected. Now my son is 28 years old and a total recluse, will not go out to work, has no diagnosis, no support, and as an adult missed in his earlier years and no longer a child, is apparrently not seen as important.

    I am a nurse, I know how to access services. I have seen my MP, had a meeting with the local comissioner, but I am in despair of how to help my son and myself if the system already cannot tell the difference between mental health and learning diabilitiy, because so far, one just passes the buck to the other.

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