Autism and ADHD Assessments Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Autism and ADHD Assessments

Flick Drummond Excerpts
Monday 6th February 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I thank the Petitions Committee for scheduling the debate on these two petitions and I congratulate everyone who signed them.

I take a close interest in diagnosis and support for autistic people, because early assessment and diagnosis can make a huge difference to people’s lives. As we have heard, we do not identify autism quickly enough at any stage in life, despite the increased awareness of and focus on autism in recent decades. In my work as an MP, I have seen what a difference diagnosis and support can make to the lives of autistic people, unlocking their potential and further improving our understanding and treatment of the condition.

I remember clearly one woman who came to my surgery very concerned about how her daughter was getting on at secondary school. I tentatively asked her whether she had thought about a diagnosis of autism, and she said she had not. A couple of years later, I got an email from her thanking me for changing their lives. The daughter received a diagnosis of autism and is now getting the help she needs. Apparently she is a completely different person now.

Undiagnosed autism has a huge impact on education. I was chair of governors at Milton Park Primary School in Portsmouth, which has autism provision in its dedicated inclusion centre. Crucially, the centre works with children undergoing assessment, as well as those who have been given an education, health and care plan. Autistic children often struggle in mainstream education settings and specialised support is important. We must ensure that this area is properly resourced.

Autistic people face stigma and a lack of understanding in education, work and society. It can affect their socialisation and how they handle transitions from familiar surroundings to unfamiliar ones. Mental health conditions are an increased risk for autistic people. Even now, there are still cases of autism being mistaken for a learning disability, which is a concern because of the different kinds of support the two conditions need. While it is possible for someone to be autistic and have a learning disability, the two are distinct conditions.

I know from my own casework and research that the process of getting an EHCP for any condition can be long and difficult, even in areas such as that covered by Hampshire County Council, which has an outstanding child services team. Diagnosis and support for autistic people later in life is even more fraught with difficulty. Often people are diagnosed having faced barriers to employment or career development, but eventual diagnosis still makes a huge difference to the rest of their lives and can allow them a new start and a better understanding of who they are.

We are around halfway through our national autism strategy, launched in 2021, and I appreciate the additional funding and improvements to the diagnostic pathways that it brings. However, like everything in social services, autism services have been set back by the covid pandemic. Research by the Autism Society shows that the waiting list for autism assessment has grown by nearly 40%. Autism, as we have heard, is not a mental health condition, but it falls within the scope of the NHS mental health services dataset, as well as the community services dataset. Will the Minister look at setting up a separate dataset for autism and related conditions to give us a clear picture of the time from first referral to diagnosis and the beginning of support? I know that other Members have talked about that, too.

Can the Minister also assure me that, as part of our catching up in education, we will have further support for autism diagnosis and support in schools? We cannot afford to allow young people to slip through, because that would amount to a loss of support for them.

Robin Walker Portrait Mr Robin Walker
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My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. She will recognise that we are launching an inquiry into persistent absence from school. Does she share my experience that so many children are away from school because their parents do not feel that they are getting the support that they need? In many cases, clearer, earlier diagnosis and getting the right support in place would help us to solve that problem and help to make sure those children get the right support in the safest place for them to be.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Drummond
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am also asking for a register of home-schooled children so that we can look into that and identify them quickly.

We need support for autistic children and autistic people generally so that society does not lose their potential and value, which would be much missed.