Debate: Neurodiversity, autism and healthcare

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We are at a time of unparalleled flux in our understanding of what autism is and now to respond to it, including our understanding of the role of clinical services. For any clinician working in the context of child development and child mental health services, the majority experience is probably of overwhelming demand, and then perhaps confusion. Referrals for neurodevelopmental conditions, and particularly autism, have become an increasing proportion of UK CAMHS referrals in recent years—with the consequent lengthening of wait times extending to years, sometimes equivalent to the whole length of a child's life up until that point. Services are struggling to develop response strategies to meet user frustration, a task not helped by the fact that most interventions in current use have no good evidence of effectiveness. Consequently, a plethora of local approaches and initiatives have developed. In this article I address these clinical and related issues. I discuss current different uses of the term autism, the relation to intellectual disability, and introduce a conceptualisation of autism as emergent and transactional, which is consistent with current developmental and intervention science. This could bridge between neurodiversity and clinical perspectives and implies a framing of early intervention support that has strong clinical trials evidence and provides the basis for a rational and pre-emptive evidenced care pathway, which I describe.
Original languageEnglish
JournalChild and Adolescent Mental Health
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


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