Posted 12.05.2021

4,500 children across NI awaiting diagnosis for autism.

An Assembly motion on Tuesday of this week, brought by SF MLA Nicola Brogan, called on the NI Health Minister to bring forward a long-term strategy to deal with autism diagnosis and associated waiting lists.

In the quarter ending in December 2020, 1,010 children were referred for an autism diagnosis, and 387 received a diagnosis. As of that date, 4,495 children were waiting for an autism assessment, and, of those, 1,457 had been waiting for over a year.

It was debated how some children in N.Ireland can wait often for two years for assessment, forcing many families to seek private treatment instead often at costs upwards of £1,400. There was strong cross-party backing for a united, cross-departmental approach to dealing with the crisis.

During the debate The Health Minister Robin Swann said:

I realise that, if a child is waiting for an autism assessment for a significant length of time, that may impact on its emotional health and well-being, personal development and education. That is not acceptable.

For the family of that child, it can impact on how they live, how they support their child and, indeed, any other children in the home, and all that without having the necessary information and, in a lot of cases, no additional support. That is not acceptable.

For those adults who may have experienced lifelong challenges in their social interaction and in their ability to communicate and interact with their environment and who have taken the decision to seek assessment and obtain support that could make a positive difference to their life, that is not acceptable."

It is important to remember that delays in receiving a diagnosis affect adults as well as children and young adults. At the end of February 2020, 997 adults were waiting for an adult autism assessment.

The NI Assembly agreed the current waiting lists were not acceptable and that autism assessment waiting times must be addressed.

Read the full debate at the Assembly