Lack of training and cuts in the number of learning disability nurses mean health services are struggling to provide vital support to children with autism and their families, say nurse campaigners.
Hospital staff often have difficulty communicating with children with autism and may need more training, say nursing experts.
“Right now, there seems to be no support for children with ASD or their parents”
Meanwhile, cuts to community services and a significant drop in the number of learning disability nurses have left many without care outside of hospital.
Shortcomings in care, in both hospitals and community settings, will be one of the key topics raised at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual children and young people’s nursing conference today.
Learning disability nurse Rob Jenkins described the challenges of caring for his seven-year-old grandson Theo, who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
He said his daughter – a single mother – struggled to cope with Theo while trying to hold down a job as a neonatal nurse.
“Right now, there seems to be no support for children with ASD or their parents,” he said “Learning disability nurses in our area only support adults, and children’s nurses only become involved if a child is physically ill.
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“Services are placing too much emphasis on sickness and far too little on enabling children to live positive, healthy lives,” he said.
Fiona Smith, the RCN’s professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said children with autism were being “severely let down by the sheer lack of support”.
“Right now the health services just don’t take this condition seriously enough; support is inconsistent and far too many families are being left to fend for themselves,” she said.
“Nursing staff across health services have a huge role to play in helping children with autism and their families,” said Ms Smith.
“However, we need the staff and the training in order to provide the care that is so vitally needed,” she added.