Autism support must be tailored for child, new guidance says

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Health and social care professionals should be trained to focus on meeting the individual needs of children and young people with autism and their families, according to new clinical guidelines.

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Recommendations in the guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)include making adjustments to environments in which children with autism are cared for. This could involve providing visual supports such as words or symbols that are meaningful to the child, or considering individual sensory sensitivities to lighting, noise level and colours of furnishings.  

NICE also recommends making arrangements to support children with autism and their families at times of increased need, such as starting or changing schools or at the birth of a sibling.

Professor Tim Kendall, consultant psychiatrist and director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, said, ‘The new guideline includes a strong emphasis on good communication and we hope the new recommendations will help professionals to recognise individual needs so the child gets the right support.’

Further research into comprehensive programmes for early interventions to manage the core symptoms of autism in pre-school children is also suggested in the guidelines.

The effectiveness of models such as Learning Experiences – an Alternative Programme for Pre-schoolers and their Parents (LEAP) have been researched in the past, but NICE advocates a more comprehensive study in view of the fact that many children with autism are diagnosed in the pre-school period.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said, ‘The guidelines set out that the right support tailored to each child or young person with autism will help them to live a happy and fulfilling life. ‘Autism can be challenging but the right support at the right time can make all the difference and implementation of these recommendations would be a step towards achieving this goal.’

But he agreed that ‘more research in this area is still urgently needed.’

The new clinical guidelines represent the final instalment in a series of three publications by NICE on autism. Previous recommendations focused on diagnosing autism in children and diagnosing and managing the condition in adults.

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