Plans for autistic children to get support weeks earlier than they do now
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Health chiefs in Suffolk are planning to put in place autism support services for children weeks earlier than they receive now in a bid combat long waiting times.
Data published last week found just one child last year was assessed for autism within the designated 13 week period, and question marks were raised over the support in places from both health services and schools.Garry Joyce, deputy director for transformation of children's services at the county's clinical commissioning groups, said a funding bid had been made to health bosses for more staff and resources to clear the backlog of referrals, and outlined plans for parents to get the long-term support much sooner.He said: "I am in the process of changing the whole system because I don't believe families should have to fight for a diagnosis to get support."We also have children on the autism spectrum that aren't severe enough to be diagnosed, and at the moment there is nothing for them."This will provide the support at the earliest opportunity."Mr Joyce said the CCGs want to work with voluntary sector providers on the scheme, which is expected to go out for tender over the coming months and could be fully operational by September.If successful, the revamp will essentially provide support for parents at the point of referral for an assessment rather than at the stage of a diagnosis.The average wait for diagnosis currently is 23 weeks - nearly six months, with no support currently in places for families during that time.It is hoped the overhaul will mean that youngsters can be diagnosed quicker, can be kept in mainstream education where appropriate and helps put in place actions before a child can deteriorate.Often an autism assessment can include many different health professionals, including occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, psychologists and paediatricians, which can make assessments a lengthy process.According to the county council, the new speech and language units planned as part of the £45million investment in special educational needs will provide designated support for youngsters with autism, as well as children not on the spectrum but who have speech and language needs.