The NHS should better recognise the signs of autism in adults to improve their quality of life and employment opportunities, according to NICE.
Guidance published today says doctors should consider a diagnostic assessment for autism if they spot signs of the condition, in which a person may find it hard to deal with social situations, or has communication difficulties.
NICE’s first clinical guideline on how to recognise and manage autism in adults advises healthcare professionals to consider such a diagnosis when an adult has one or more of the following - persistent difficulties in social interaction or social communication, rigid or repetitive behaviour, and one or more of the following - problems in obtaining or sustaining employment or education, difficulties in initiating or sustaining social relationships, previous or current contact with mental health or learning disability services, and a history of a neurodevelopmental condition (including learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or ‘mental disorder’.
There are estimated to be more than 500,000 people in the UK with an autism spectrum condition (ASC) including Asperger syndrome. The majority are diagnosed in childhood and adolescence.
While there are many support services and care options available, if left undiagnosed or undetected, autism can cause feelings of isolation, confusion and social and economic exclusion.
Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for clinical practice at Nice, said: “This is the first clinical guideline by Nice to focus on autism in adults. It aims to help improve the care of adults with autism and contribute to achieving the aims of the first ever autism strategy for adults in England launched in 2010.
“NICE has also developed a clinical guideline on diagnosing children and young people with autism and will publish a new guideline on the management of the condition in this age group next year.”
NICE also advises that every adult with autism who does not have a learning disability or who has a mild one should be offered an individualised support programme if they are having difficulty obtaining or maintaining employment.
This programme should include help with writing CVs and job applications and preparing for interviews, and carefully matching the person with autism with the job.