(UK) NI: Autism increase 'due to greater awareness'

May 20, 2022, Belfast Telegram: Autism services in Northern Ireland facing funds crisis

A charity has called for urgent investment in services for autistic children and adults in Northern Ireland after official statistics indicated another rise in autism in school-age children.

According to figures from the Department of Health (DoH), within the last year, 4.7% of school children were estimated to have autism. This is a 0.2% increase on 2020/21’s findings and a 0.5% rise on the year before.

Shirelle Stewart, the director of the National Autistic Society in Northern Ireland, said the numbers highlighted how the education system was “already struggling to provide the support that autistic children need”.

“Research would indicate that the diagnosis rate is rising due to greater awareness and understanding of autism, but diagnostic services are not keeping up with the need,” she told this newspaper.

“In November 2021, the waiting time for an assessment and diagnosis for a child in the Belfast Trust was nearly three years, and if you were an adult seeking an assessment, it rose to nearly five years.”

The charity also called for autism training to become mandatory for teachers and classroom assistants, an initiative it has been promoting since 2012.

Mrs Stewart, whose teenage son Callum has been diagnosed as autistic, called for action. “It is time for the Northern Ireland government and Education Authority to take action to ensure every autistic child and young person gets the education they are entitled to,” she said....