Adults with autism need more help in accessing services
Early diagnosis of adults with autism can help them access the services they need, including assistance with getting jobs and keeping hold of them, says NICE.
Around 500,000 people in the country have autism, a neurodevelopmental condition with features that vary greatly in severity, and that can fluctuate over time.
The majority of people with autism are diagnosed in childhood and adolescence. However, if left undiagnosed or undetected, the condition can result in feelings of isolation, confusion and social exclusion.
Many healthcare professionals often overlook the condition, meaning that adults with autism can encounter barriers to accessing the services that are available and which help them lead independent lives.
In addition, figures show that many who are are willing and able to work are not getting jobs, as only 15 per cent of adults with autism are currently in full-time employment.
NICE's first guideline on the referral, diagnosis and management of autism in adults and provides a full clinical pathway of care for those with the condition.
The guideline forms part of the Department of Health's autism strategy, which has a range of aims, including providing a clear and consistent pathway for diagnosis, and providing help for adults with adults to get into work and keep jobs.
NICE says GPs and other healthcare professionals should consider a diagnostic assessment for possible autism under certain specific conditions.
These are when a person has one or more features including persistent difficulties in social interaction or social communication, stereotypic (rigid and repetitive) behaviours, and resistance to change or restricted interests.
The person should also have one or more of the following features, if a diagnostic assessment for possible autism is to be considered:
- problems in obtaining or sustaining employment or education
- difficulties in initiating or sustaining social relationships
- previous or current contact with mental health or learning disability services
- a history of a neurodevelopmental condition (including learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or mental disorder.
GPs and other healthcare professionals should consider using the Autism Spectrum Quotient (ASQ) for adults with possible autism who do not have a moderate or severe learning disability.
A comprehensive assessment for autism should be taken if the person has an ASQ score of over six, or autism is suspected based on clinical judgement.
Individual supported employment programmes should be considered for adults with autism without a learning disability or with a mild learning disability, who are having difficulty obtaining or maintaining employment.
The programme should include help with writing CVs and job applications and preparing for interviews, training for the identified work role and work-related behaviours, and should carefully match the person with autism with the job.
Professor Stephen Pilling, Director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, which developed the guideline on NICE's behalf said:
“The new NICE guideline clearly identifies the most common, recognisable characteristics that could suggest an individual is autistic.
“We hope that this advice will inspire greater confidence and awareness among healthcare professionals, and so allow more adults with autism to have their individual needs recognised and receive the support they need.”
Richard Mills, Director of Research at the National Autistic Society and member of the Guideline Development Group, said: “While there are estimated to be around 332,600 people of working age in the UK with some form of autism, only 6 per cent have a full-time paid job.
“It is encouraging that the NICE guideline highlights employment advice as a particular need as so many adults with autism are able and keen to work, and can bring many skills and qualities to potential employers.”
27 June 2012