'Delays in autism checks could mean my son misses school'
Sep 28, 2022
A mum fears her son may miss the first year of secondary school after waiting three years for an autism assessment. Rebecca Caple is worried about her son Jake who, when diagnosed with ADHD in 2019, was immediately put on the waiting list for further examination. Picture: Rebeeca Caple (59347086)
At the time, the average wait was around one and a half years but since the pandemic, the process has seen a backlog of patients so the wait time has now doubled. Jake, 10, lives with his mum in Tunbridge Wells and is a bubbly energetic and happy boy who likes to make people laugh. But Rebecca says he has fallen behind with his school work due to the lack of help offered to him. She said: "The school he is currently in is trying to help as much as they can but I don't know if it's lack of funding or whatever but they just don't seem to have the resources to help." "He's three years behind on his education and struggles with his timestables with the only one he can do confidently being the 10s. "The school can only help him so much and I personally think he needs a teaching assistant or one-to-one help." Broadwater Downs Primary School. Picture: Google Street View (59537126)
Jake was diagnosed with ADHD on September 12, 2019. He was originally booked in for an autism assessment in March 2023 but since his mum got in touch with KentOnline, the meeting has been moved forward to October 2. Rebecca has also been able to have a meeting with Broadwater Down Primary School to discuss how best to go forward with Jake's learning and what further help they can give to aid his progress. Head teacher Katie Harris said: "We support all children and put provision in place for those with special educational needs and or disabilities taking in to account their individual needs. "Every child is part of the Broadwater Down school family and they are included in all aspects of school life and are supported to make progress and be happy in school. "Our pupils don’t need a formal diagnosis to receive a package of support within school and that support will always be tailored to the individual needs of each child." 'He's three years behind on his education and struggles with his timestables - I personally think he needs a teaching assistant or one-to-one help'
In the meeting with the school, the process of acquiring Jake an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) was also restarted – something he was rejected for when they applied last year. Rebecca continued: "With the the plan it would mean I could apply for a more specialist school where I believe her would cope better." "But without the diagnosis I only have the option to apply for a mainstream school." Despite having a new appointment slot, Rebecca is still worried the results will not be processed in time for when she needs to select secondary schools for Jake in November. An EHCP is issued by Kent County Council and a parent can ask the local authority to carry out an assessment if they have concerns about their child. The wait for an autism assessment has doubled
If the council agrees, the parent may be asked for reports from the child’s school, a doctor's assessment and a letter from the parent about the child’s needs. The authority will then hope to notify the parent whether an EHCP will be issued within 16 weeks but due to the shortage of educational psychologists this wait is expected to be delayed. Due to Covid and an increase in referrals, delays to autism assessments is a problem across the country. Face-to-face assessments were restricted during the pandemic and while virtual meetings were carried out, an autism diagnosis can only be made in person. Extra pupil assessments will be carried out to help with the backlog
There is also a shortage of speech and language therapists who are a key part of the team required to complete the assessment. Clive Tracey, community services director for specialist and public health services at Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We know this is a long time and the reasons for the increase in waiting lists are no consolation to the children and their families. "We apologise for any distress this causes and we are focused on doing everything we can to diagnose children faster. “We have bolstered teams with support, providing 30 extra assessments a month from September, have recruited a specialist teacher and educational psychologist, are piloting innovations and providing extra support to signpost children and their families." Anyone concerned about their child's educational needs should book an appointment with their GP or visit the NHS community health website.