Demand has been high for a new service in Suffolk for people with Autism and Asperger Syndrome that was launched by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust last summer.
Patient numbers have been far higher than expected since the Suffolk Autism Diagnostic Service began in August last year. The service expected to see 160 people over the course of a year but has already helped 130 in just eight months.
Autism and Asperger Syndrome are lifelong developmental disabilities that affect how a person interacts and communicates and how they make sense of the world. Although some people with these conditions live relatively normal lives, others require a lifetime of specialist support.
“A huge number of people with autism go undiagnosed,” explained Lead Clinical Psychologist for the Adult Pathway, Colm Magee. ”Many people with autism are good at masking their symptoms. The more articulate the person is, the better able they are at hiding their difficulties.
“Autistic people can answer questions literally and will not pick up on what someone is inferring, which has implications for mental health assessment. They also have difficulties with emotional expression and find it hard to describe the depth of their feelings. Complications can also arise because autism often co-exists with other disorders. For example, if an autistic person likes being very tidy and having things in certain places this can be interpreted as OCD, when really it’s a symptom of their need for predictability.”
People with autism avoid social contact and a staggering 99% of people with autism are bullied.
“Autism is a social communication disorder which often leads to problems throughout their life,” says Colm. “University is a crucial time because although someone with autism may expect to work hard academically, they will be unable to cope with the social side of university life and the lack of structure. At work, people with autism can do very well in specific roles but be unable to cope if the job changes at all, or if they are promoted into managerial roles where the need to interact socially increases. Office politics are extremely difficult and job interviews present problems too, as an autistic person will struggle to sell their skills and abilities.”
The Suffolk Autism Diagnostic Service sees people from the age of 11. The service also acts as a signposting service, enabling people newly diagnosed with autism to access support and advice through statutory and voluntary organisations. Some individuals and families will have struggled for many years, before receiving the help they need.
The service is currently based at St Clement's Hospital, with clinics in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds, but there are plans to move to a new base in Stowmarket later in the year. Seventy five per cent of referrals come via GPs, with the remainder from other professionals, however, plans are underway to accept self-referrals in the future.