Ben and Rachel.jpgThe fourteenth annual World Autism Awareness Day takes place on April 2.

Joined by the international community, hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world come together and light up blue in recognition of people with autism and those who love and support them.

Autism-friendly events and educational activities take place all month, aiming to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism, fostering worldwide support and inspire a kinder, more inclusive world. 

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that affects how people see the world and how they interact with others. 

Dr Mahfud Ben-Hamida, Consultant Community Paediatrician with North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, and Rachael James, specialist speech and language therapist, said: “We know that children with autism see, hear and feel the world slightly differently from others. 

“Autism is a spectrum; it can be mild and it can be severe. It tends to be a lifelong condition and it is not disease or illness. 

“There is no vaccination and there is no cure currently for it.

“The reason why it is important to have an assessment for autism if you think your child is affected by the condition is that families and children can develop a better understanding of this condition. 

“The child can avoid the risk of being isolated and developing mental health problems later on. 

“It also helps to identify the child’s style of learning that he/she will need in the school establishment. 

“It is not necessary that every child with autism will need an Education Health Care Plan but sometimes the style of delivering the knowledge needs to be adjusted and the teaching style might need to be slightly modified.”

Dr Ben-Hamida says: “With the right support, children with autism can do well at school. Children with autism have a 17 per cent chance of being suspended from school. 

“Just under half of the 17 per cent get suspended more than once and four per cent are at risk of being expelled from one or more schools. 

“One in three adults with autism may experience mental health problems due to lack of support.”

If your child is experiencing difficulties in school then it is worth talking to your school and also looking at Cumbria County Council’s Local Offer website for information and support

Referral to Our Service:

We accept referrals with sufficient evidence and concerns to the autism assessment; currently this is through the GP or from a School SENCO. 

Usually the referral will get triaged by the Community Paediatrician who will send parents a questionnaire. 

Parents have the opportunity to fill the questionnaire in over a few weeks and it is important for the questionnaires to be returned as it gives the Community Paediatrician a good understanding about the child. 

After this parents and child will be invited to a consultation with the Community Paediatrician and this is to look for whether the child’s symptoms can be explained by Autism or other similar related conditions.

In the consultation the Community Paediatrician will go through lots of details such as background, developmental history and also to try to identify signs of autism. 

After that the Community Paediatrician will discuss with parents and child the outcome and agree a way forward. 

If Autism assessment is agreed then we usually ask for more information from the school and this is because we see autism as a social communication disorder.

If there isn’t much information being fed back from school, the Community Paediatrician will subsequently refer the child to the Speech and Language Therapy Team given it is a communication issue. 

If there still isn’t enough evidence then we usually refer to the Education Psychologist for further assessment. 

Autism assessment teams have monthly meetings discussing these finding looking at the evidence of the autism assessment and the information we gain from other agencies who have involvement with the child. 

After this we conclude an outcome which will be discussed in detail with the child and his/ her family.

Post Diagnostic Support:

We are lucky in Cumbria as we have a variety of support groups in Cumbria

We also have post diagnostic support by means of running training courses such as EarlyBird (for children less than five years old) and What Now? (school aged children).  Children who are aged less than 11-years-old will have access to the Learning Disability Nurses (Cumbria Northumbria Tyne and Wear Trust - CNTW) for support if needed. 

If the children are over 11-years-old and the child has a significant learning difficulty then they will have access to the Learning Disability Team. 

Throughout their childhood, autistic children can access support from MENCAP.  There is also a new service being developed for adults where adult autism assessments can be carried out.