ADHD and autism are neurodevelopmental conditions. Autistic and ADHD brains have structural differences to that of neurotypical brains. This is fact over any of the conjecture we’ve seen recently with headlines making sensationalist and unfounded claims (looking at you The Times and Daily Mail).
What themes did we hear in the parliamentary debate held yesterday about autism and ADHD assessments and waiting times in the UK?
I’m going to stick to facts here.
Those who have undiagnosed and untreated neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD and autism are significantly more at risk of suicide.
We have made leaps in our understanding of autism and ADHD and how it can present in recent years. This is one of the reasons why we are seeing a rise in diagnoses. This is no different to any other medical advancements in knowledge. It’s not about fads.
There are many myths around how autism and ADHD can present. For example, only 15% of ADHDers are in fact hyperactive and yet we’ve seen stereotypes around this kind of presentation for years. Similarly, not all autistic individuals have a learning disability and yet this kind of stereotype is still seen amongst professionals and the general public, meaning people are missed.
GPS, schools and CAMHS are failing to recognise symptoms and not referring quickly enough.
When individuals are referred for assessment, there are huge waiting times. The kind of waiting times that we just wouldn’t accept in any other area of the NHS.
These waiting times are often having an impact on our already overloaded mental health service. Though autism and ADHD are not mental health illnesses, anxiety and depression are often secondary symptoms – particularly for those who are undiagnosed and untreated.
We know that an autism and / or ADHD diagnosis can provide children and adults with access to appropriate support in the education system and at work.
Early intervention and diagnosis are key. If we assess and diagnose sooner, we can prevent some of the mental health crises that we are currently seeing as a result of undiagnosed neurodivergence.
Post diagnosis support is lacking.
We sorely need more training provided to professionals in schools, GP surgeries and our mental health services to assist them in recognising potential neurodivergence earlier.
The stigmas and myths around autism and ADHD need to be challenged and addressed.
Speaking as someone who struggled undiagnosed until adulthood, and now works in a neurodiversity-affirmative way professionally, the latter two points are areas that I strive to address in my work. The tide is turning, but there is still much to do in terms of education on neurodiversity.
We are failing people. Missed and / or misdiagnosis can lead to people being detained in inappropriate settings, and lives being lost. Diagnosis can offer validation, community, correct support and treatment.
We need to keep the conversation going...