Page last updated at 23:27 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 00:27 UK

Adults with autism 'cast adrift'

Lonely adult
Adults with autism do not get proper support, MPs say

Adults with autism in England are often not being diagnosed or supported properly, MPs say.

The Commons' Public Accounts Committee said the lack of understanding about the condition among GPs and social care staff was a key problem.

But MPs also attacked the arrangements in place to oversee the transition from child to adult services which led to people being "cast adrift".

The government said a new strategy for autism would be published next year.

There are about 400,000 adults in the country with the condition, split evenly between those with a learning disability, sometimes known as low-functioning, and those without one, known as high functioning.

Adults with autism are being left to fend for themselves with all the consequences this has for their access to further education, benefits or employment and for their mental health
Edward Leigh, committee chairman

While children are often supported through the school system, adults require a very different network of help.

They will often need concerted and individual support across health, social care, housing, education and employment.

But the cross-party group of MPs said this was not happening.

They blamed the poor transitional services being run by local Connexions services, which provide integrated services for 16 to 24-year-olds.

Such services were often unaware of the needs of their clients, the report said.

There was also a basic lack of data on the number of adults needing help.

Just a fifth of local authorities and their NHS partners were aware of the numbers with low-functioning autism, while only 12% had details of those with the high-functioning form.

The MPs also identified a weakness in diagnostic services. It is estimated that GPs see two adult patients with undiagnosed autism in each six-month period, but previous research has shown eight in 10 GPs felt they needed extra training and guidance on the condition.

Less than a third of areas commissioned specialist diagnostic services to pick up those cases not identified in childhood, the report added.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said: "Adults with autism are being left to fend for themselves with all the consequences this has for their access to further education, benefits or employment and for their mental health."

Discrimination

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said: "The government cannot possibly ignore the recommendations of this influential group of MPs.

"Adults with autism have been telling us for some time that they are frequently misunderstood and discriminated against, whether it's trying to get a diagnosis, a job or access to health and social care.

"Thousands are experiencing serious mental health difficulties as a result and just 15% are currently in full-time paid employment.

"This has profound consequences for individuals, families and the wider economy."

A Department of Health spokesperson said measures were lined up to improve services for people with autism, along with research into the prevalence of autism among adults.

"Together this will help create a new approach which directly reflects the needs of people with autism and their families and will drive up standards of services.

"We will consider the detailed recommendations and make our formal response in due course."



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