NICE issues guidance on adult autism

The NHS should better recognise the signs and symptoms of autism in adults to improve their quality of life and employment opportunities, says new guidance from NICE – the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

There are estimated to be over 500,000 people in the UK with an autism spectrum condition and the majority are diagnosed in childhood and adolescence. While there are many support services and care options available, if left undiagnosed or undetected, autism can cause feelings of isolation, confusion and social and economic exclusion.

Professor Stephen Pilling, Chartered Psychologist and Director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, which developed the clinical guideline on NICE’s behalf said: “Autism can affect adults in many different ways which means the condition can often be overlooked by healthcare, education and social care professionals.

“The new NICE guideline clearly identifies the most common, recognisable characteristics that could suggest an individual has autism. These include having difficulties with speech and communicating with other people, and having problems obtaining or sustaining employment or education. A positive diagnosis of autism can minimise feelings of isolation and confusion by helping adults to understand their behaviour more and to access employment advice and other support services they need.”

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Fellow of the British Psychological Society, director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge and chair of the Guideline Development Group, said: “The way that autism is expressed depends on many factors, such as co-existing conditions or changes in circumstances. This often means that autism is often overlooked or misdiagnosed, which can lead to secondary depression and anxiety.

“Levels of understanding and the availability of services also currently vary greatly across the country. We hope that these new recommendations will help healthcare professionals to accurately diagnose autism and provide the appropriate treatment and support for each individual.”

The Society runs three popular e-learning modules to help raise awareness of adult autism. More than 7000 participants have now successfully completed the first two courses. These include not only psychologists but also other interested practitioners and members of the public.

Dr Peter Banister, the President of the British Psychological Society, says:

“These courses have been a great success in terms of their impact on wider society. Not only has taking part in this course raised individual awareness of autism, it has also has impacted on the wider provision of autism training as the courses have been recommended and taken up in health authorities and schools. 

“They clearly fulfill our Royal Charter objectives of promoting the advancement and diffusion of a knowledge of psychology, and the Society is proud to have on offer such provision that is to benefit of so many in this country.”