COVID lockdown delays autism diagnosis in more than 128,000 at-risk children

Children's Health

More than 128,000 children and their families risk being ‘forgotten’ by the system, as COVID lockdowns delay autism diagnosis. Analysis of data by a leading autism publication reveals children with suspected autism are at risk of being un- or misdiagnosed as a result of vital services being shut during the pandemic. Reports suggest that, due to closures and limited resources, parents are finding it increasingly difficult to spot signs of autism and access routes to diagnosis even when they do. In response, the brand has put together a signs of autism checklist for concerned parents.

Cases of suspected autism face further delays to diagnosis as a result of pandemic lockdowns, with an estimated 128,160 children thought to be at risk.

Research conducted by Autism Parenting Magazine has revealed that many children face being mis- or even undiagnosed due to lockdowns over the last six months, as experts warn wait times for key appointments will rise.

According to Google, searches for ‘early signs of autism in babies’ is up 200% and ‘early signs of autism’ up 100% since April. In response, the site has created a guide to help parents spot the early signs of autism:

Wait-times for appointments following first referral are at an all-time high due to ‘unprecedented’ demand. Figures released by the NHS in 2019 suggested that some patients were thought to have autism waited over 19 weeks for their first mental health appointments, with an average wait time in 10 out of 25 English health trusts of 137 days, against a target of 91 days. With limitations being placed on health care services due to coronavirus measures, this number may spike further.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant traditional assessments through in-person observation have been unavailable to struggling parents, resulting in longer wait times for diagnosis. Without it, families cannot access vital support and services to help cope with the demands of raising an autistic child, both financially and emotionally.

Parents of children with suspected autism often struggle to pinpoint signs that mean their child is not neurotypical, and without schools, teachers, friends and family to help parents during lockdowns, these children risk further delays to diagnosis. Often, it’s a lack of confidence and understanding of the signs parents are seeing which leads to delays in starting the diagnosis journey, but now they’re having to cope with the added pressure of appointment and referral meetings cancelled or postponed even when they do start the process.

Raising an autistic child means increased outgoings, for therapies, medication, equipment and support such as respite care, while often having to reduce working hours over a child’s lifetime. It’s a scary prospect for parents, even when they feel well supported and listened to in their concerns. Early diagnosis can save autistic children and their families a lot of anguish and heartache, as well as time and money in the long run, and we would ask the Government to prioritize reducing waiting times for these families in order to give them that.”

Mark Blakely, Founder, Autism Parenting Magazine

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