Autistic children in Northamptonshire 'struggling' due to delays in diagnosis and help, watchdog report says

Some professionals lack empathy for the child with autism or ADHD and their parents, Healthwatch Northamptonshire found
Some professionals lack empathy for the child with autism or ADHD and their parents, Healthwatch Northamptonshire found

Both the education and the emotional health of autistic Northamptonshire children is suffering due to delays in assesment.

That is the conclusion of a report by the county's health watchdog, Healthwatch Northamptonshire which spoke in depth to 12 families who have a child with autism or ADHD.

It found that the route to any help from the NHS and Northamptonshire County Council is so maze-like parents are sometimes unsure if they are even on the official pathway.

The author of the report said: "We found that the process of seeking a diagnosis of, and help for, ASD [autistic spectrum disorder] and ADHD often takes so long and is so fragmented that children and their families are struggling.

"There is often little or no support for the families to address the behavioural problems that lead them to seek professional help or diagnosis."

Healthwatch Northamptonshire added that the repercussions of the lack of support could be serious and long-lasting for the child.

"Delays in assessment can have a significant impact on a child's wellbeing and educational outcomes."

Other serious findings of the study were that some professionals involved in the assessment process were seemingly not suited to the role.

The report said: "Some relevant professionals have limited understanding of ASD / ADHD and lack empathy for the child and their parents."

One parent of a 14-year-old child told Healthwatch Northamptonshire officers: “People seem to think that ASD is something they will ‘get over’, or get rid of it, like a bag on the back.

"They don’t view it as something that some people need to learn how to carry."

NHS Northamptonshire Healthcare responded by saying that all its team undertake a wide range of third sector training with regard to autism and ADHD awareness.

Health visitors and school nurses, and also teachers, SENCOs and other education staff take part.

Sharon Robson, head of specialist children's services said: "Any training that we provide is always fully booked and attended well."

Bob Fletcher, commissioning manager for autism at Northamptonshire County Council said he was pleased with the feedback regarding positive support from Portage, Sleep Solutions and Education Professionals.

However, he acknowledged the "difficulties and frustrations" the families interviewed expressed regarding aspects of diagnoses and service provision.

He said: "We acknowledge the recommendations and would like to place on record our thanks to the parents for taking part and sharing their experiences.

"The draft all age Autism Strategy, currently out for consultation, does highlight similar issues to those your project has identified and will be seeking, with the support of parents and young people, to focus on solutions."