The number of children diagnosed with autism in York has doubled in recent years – but the figures may still be an underestimate, according to a report.
In 2020, there were 406 autistic children at York schools, compared to 204 in 2015 – an increase of 99 per cent.
But the rate of autistic children known to schools is lower than the national average and lower than the rate in similar places to York, suggesting a continuing “challenge around diagnosis”, the City of York Council report said.
There is also predicted to be an increase of 6.4 per cent of the number of autisic adults living in the city, from 1,709 now to 1,819 in 2040.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world, according to the National Autistic Society.
Amid a predicted picture of rising autism diagnoses in children and adults in the coming years, the council has decided to refresh its autism strategy.
The previous all-age strategy from 2017-2021 highlighted challenges around assessment waiting times, public awareness and support for parents and carers, among other issues.
Since then, work has taken place to boost employment opportunities, increase services during the day and improve early intervention.
The new Beehive service in Acomb provides support for children and young people with autism and there is now an autism-specific supported living scheme for adults.
But there is still work to do, according to the council report.
Change of strategy
According to national guidance, people shouldn’t have to wait more than 13 weeks for an appointment following a referral – but only eight per cent of people in York were seen in this timeframe across 2020 – 2021.
The council’s corporate director of adult social care and integration, Jamaila Hussian, is recommending that the council’s strategy is refreshed to keep up with the government’s latest document.
The strategy is not anticipated to specify additional investment for autistic people from within council budgets, however.
It will be ‘co-produced’ with people who have autism, their families and the services which support them.
A joint meeting of the children, education and communities and the health and adult social care scrutiny committees will discuss the report on Tuesday, 27 September.