The Good Schools Guide Blog
How do you reduce the costs resulting from the rising rate of autism diagnoses? Stop diagnosing it, stupid.
You couldn’t make it up, but it seems that this is exactly what is underway.
In one of the most spectacular attempts at shifting goalposts we have seen, cash-strapped councils are trying to avoid new autism diagnoses, and their associated costs, by changing the criteria under which children can be diagnosed. In a move to balance the books, they want to restrict the diagnosis to those children who also have co-existing conditions only.
Aim to reduce numbers diagnosed with autism
The TES newspaper has seen minutes from a board meeting at the South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust, which suggested that diagnostic criteria should be reviewed in order ‘to reduce the number of children and young people who are able to access a full diagnostic assessment from the Trust, and will require extensive engagement to stimulate existing resources across social care and education services’.
The NHS commissioners have discussed restricting autism diagnoses only to those children who have a co-existing condition such as depression or ADHD.
Children paying a dreadful price in assaults and low self-esteem
One commentator said this was already practice in other parts of the country. In her area, she said, ‘only the more severe cases of classic autism, and autism with comorbidities, are being diagnosed. We now have children working through secondary school, without a diagnosis, or deliberately underdiagnosed with dyspraxia. They are paying a dreadful price in assaults, low self-esteem, friendlessness and some also have intellectual impediments so are failing grades too. It really does affect safeguarding of children dreadfully, because of the injuries, exclusions and bullying by other children.’
We see this in practice too; in a number of cases dealt with by the GSG’s SEN team, the children have reached the door of a psychiatric hospital before local authorities could be persuaded to take any steps towards an autism assessment.
It’s a further blow to parents who already face a tremendous battle to get their child assessed. School heads are equally alarmed about managing these children without the additional resources a diagnosis can bring.
Cut the cloth by refusing assessments
Meanwhile figures released this week by the DfE confirmed our suspicions from what we’ve heard anecdotally that the number of children refused assessments for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) are rising dramatically. According to the DfE, almost 15,000 requests were refused in 2016, a 35% increase on the previous year.
And foot-dragging remains the modus operandi to prevent children from getting the support they need – just 55% of EHCPs were issued last year within the legally required 20 week time period from the point of request.
Legally or morally right?
We’d like to know how any decent human being sees depriving our most fragile children of necessary support as the best way out of a financial tight spot?
And we’d like to know how such moves can be legal, when the SEN Code of Practice requires local authorities to identify all the children and young people in their area who have special needs or a disability?