GPs will be able to use new guidance to help them identify cases of autism in adults, under new guidance being developed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
NICE is developing a clinical guideline on the recognition, referral, diagnosis and management of adults on the autism spectrum and has published draft recommendations for public consultation.
Under the draft recommendations, NICE wants the NHS to use agreed signs and symptoms that would be identifiable in a range of different care settings including primary care and by health and social care professionals, including GPs, with varying knowledge and experience of autism.
In its draft guideline, NICE advises that there should be structures for the organisation and delivery of treatment and care in the form of a “local autism multi-agency strategy group” that should include primary healthcare, mental health services, learning disabilities services, the criminal justice system, education, housing, employment, social care and the third sector.
The guideline also proposes that clinicians should consider further assessment for possible autism when a person they are seeing has persistent difficulties in two-way social engagement or social communication and stereotypic (rigid and repetitive) behaviours or resistance to change, and other signs such as problems in obtaining or sustaining employment or education and difficulties in initiating or sustaining social relationships.
Dr Fergus Macbeth, director of the Centre for Clinical Practice at NICE said: “Autism can be difficult to correctly diagnose as there are lots of possible signs and symptoms, as well as coexisting conditions with similar features, such as intellectual disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
“Levels of understanding and the availability of services for those with autism vary greatly across the country. The condition is often overlooked by healthcare, education and social care professionals which means that a large proportion of autistic adults find themselves excluded both socially and economically. They often find it difficult to access the support and services they need to live independently.
“The aim of this new NICE guideline is to help reduce variation across the country in the identification and referral of those who have autism, as well as emphasising the importance of joint working for health and social care including learning disabilities service and the criminal justice system.”