AMA launches call to action on autism

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon is calling for co-ordinated action to speed up the diagnosis of autism in children to ensure "critical" early intervention.

GPs are often the first person anxious parents turn to when they suspect their child might have autism, yet too many are forced to wait unnecessary wait times for referrals and diagnosis.

Recognising the integral role GPs play in "critical" early detection and the need for a national policy, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has issued a call to action with the release of its 2016 position statement on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The AMA wants to see co-ordinated national action to speed up the diagnosis of autism in children to ensure essential early intervention is available to families in need.

Australian Medical Association President Dr Michael Gannon says parents are currently forced to wait too long for a diagnosis - a problem magnified by a limited number of paediatricians, child psychiatrists and clinical psychologists specialising in ASD.

Dr Gannon, who will launch the position statement in Sydney on Wednesday, has also called on the federal government to rule out any future narrowing of the eligibility requirements for people with ASD to access the National Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Current research suggests ASD can be reliably detected at two years of age, but currently in Australia the average age of diagnosis is just before a child's sixth birthday, according to analysis of Medicare data.

A recent survey by peak advocacy and support group Autism Awareness Australia found that 34 per cent of families waited more than a year for a diagnosis, and close to 20 per cent waited more than two years.

Autism is a broad term used to describe developmental disabilities characterised by difficulties in social interaction, impaired communication, restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours and sensory activities.

There is currently no reliable data on the prevalence of ASD in Australia but based on UK estimates and ABS data approximately 230,000 children in Australia could meet the diagnostic criteria.

What is known is that an increasing number of children are being diagnosed and that the earlier ASD is detected, the better the outcome.

"Early detection and diagnosis is critical, as brain plasticity - the ability of the brain to respond and remodel itself - means early intervention can make a huge difference," said Dr Gannon, who also took aim at anti-vaccination activists for making "wild and misleading" claims about the cause of ASD.

Autism Awareness Australia CEO Nicole Rogerson has welcomed the AMA position statement.

"We are delighted to see this important autism policy come to light," she said.

Source AAP

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