Autism guide aims to set national mark

Rick Morton

The first set of national standards governing the diagnosis of autism was released yesterday for public consultation, part of a years-long plan to eradicate big variances in methods and rates of the condition.

Lead researcher Andrew Whitehouse said he hoped the guidelines would be adopted nat­ionwide to standardise diagnostic methods and that one day they would become mandated.

The project was funded by the National Disability Insurance Agency, which is running the $22 billion insurance scheme and has experienced “cost pressures” linked to the number of children proving eligible for the scheme with developmental delays and autism.

“These (guidelines) are really a hybrid of some of the systems around the country. In some states they require multi­disciplinary teams of pediatricians, psychiatrists and patholo­gists and some other states have less rigorous standards,” Professor Whitehouse said.

A child now could be diagnosed with autism by one clinician after one appointment: “That is clearly not a detailed enough assessment in any way.”

The number of people diagnosed with autism in Australia ­almost doubled between 2003 and 2006, and has doubled every three years since, to 115,000 in 2012. This figure jumped again to 164,000 people in 2015, indicating the rate of diagnosis is slowing.

The draft guidelines are available online for feedback.