NICE has issued new guidance for GPs and other health professionals to help them better identify autism in adults and ensure they get the help they need.
The new guidance published today is designed to ensure the NHS better recognise the signs and symptoms of autism in adults to improve their quality of life and employment opportunities.
There are an estimated 500,000 people in the UK with an autism spectrum condition (ASC) including Asperger syndrome and most are diagnosed in childhood and adolescence.
Although there are many support services and care options available, autism, if left undiagnosed or undetected, can cause feelings of isolation, confusion and social and economic exclusion, said NICE.
The watchdog’s first clinical guideline on how to recognise, refer, diagnose and manage autism in adults advises healthcare professionals to consider a diagnostic assessment for autism when an adult has one or more of the following:
- persistent difficulties in social interaction
- persistent difficulties in social communication
- stereotypic (rigid and repetitive) behaviours, resistance to change or restricted interests
- 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 or ‘mental disorder'.
The guidance also recommends that every adult with autism who does not have a learning disability or who has a mild one should be offered an individualised support programme if they are having difficulty obtaining or maintaining employment.
Such a programme should include:
- help with writing CVs and job applications and preparing for interviews
- training for the identified work role and work-related behaviours
- carefully matching the person with autism with the job
- advice to employers about making reasonable adjustments to the workplace.
- support for the employer before and after the person starts work, including autism awareness training.
Professor Stephen Pilling, director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, which developed the clinical guideline on NICE's behalf, said: “Autism can affect adults in many different ways which means the condition can often be overlooked by healthcare, education and social care professionals.
“We hope that this advice will inspire greater confidence and awareness among healthcare professionals, and allow more adults with autism to have their individual needs recognised and receive the support they need.”
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the autism research centre at the University of Cambridge and chair of the guideline development group, said:
“Levels of understanding and the availability of services also currently vary greatly across the country. We hope that these new recommendations will help healthcare professionals to accurately diagnose autism and provide the appropriate treatment and support for each individual.”