The College's position on Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Dr Silvana Unigwe, RCGP Clinical Fellow for Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Autism affects at least 1% of the population, yet despite its relative prevalence, it remains a condition that is often poorly understood and supported.

There continue to be great efforts by national bodies to improve autism awareness in the UK. The National Autistic Society’s recent ‘Too much information’ campaign gained wide media attention across the country.

The RCGP ASD clinical priority has gathered momentum this year and produced a number of outputs that have and hopefully will continue to assist GPs and other primary care professionals in supporting their patients with autism, as well as their carers and families. The College’s position statement on Autism, details where we stand in terms of providing equitable healthcare for people with autism.

Earlier this year, with the help of Department of Health funding, autism packs were mailed out to every GP practice in England. The packs contained useful, concise information for GP surgery staff, for example on ideas of how to make their practices autism-friendly. There were also top tips for consultations, as some of the general principles we use may need to be adapted for patients on the autism spectrum.

The Autistic Spectrum Disorders toolkit was also launched on the RCGP website and is available to all internet users (no RCGP membership required). It contains links to information for GPs, patients, carers and commissioners. We are thankful to those who have contacted us with feedback, even from abroad, and suggested further resources that we are continually adding to the toolkit.

At the end of last year, you may remember getting an invitation to take part in a survey exploring GP knowledge and attitudes towards autism. Our findings, which show the need for more support for GPs, will soon be published in the British Journal of General Practice.

One of the most enjoyable projects of the year was the delivery of autism workshops for GPs and practice staff in the faculties of Birmingham, London, Luton and York.  During each workshop we had talks from our clinical champion, Dr Carole Buckley, as well as autism self-advocates, and importantly local child and adult autism services.  We had found out during the knowledge base survey that referral pathways were often unclear. The workshop format proved useful, as it gave colleagues the opportunity to clarify what services were available in their own localities.  And feedback from the workshops was very positive, with comments ranging:

“Excellent workshop, well linked to what is happening in my local area”.
“Helped me to feel more confident to start to recognise autism, particularly in adults.”
“Good tips on making small practical changes to help people with autism/their families.”
“I will share this with all clinicians I know”
“Information about autism services in [my] area with referral criteria was amazing”

The feedback has greatly encouraged us, and we hope in the future to deliver these workshops in other areas of the UK.

For those of us still in training, Dr Buckley has produced a series of articles on autism for the Innovait journal, which are due to be published soon.  We have also been able to liaise with the RCGP curriculum leads, and provided them with suggestions on ways of the refining the syllabus to better reflect key training needs around autism.

The autism clinical priority is set to end next year, but we hope it has a long-lasting legacy.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank all of you who have helped in one way or another: by completing our survey; using the toolkit and autism packs; sending us comments and feedback; and attending our workshops.  For those of you who haven’t yet been able to engage directly with us, please spare a moment to look through our toolkit. You may find its resources useful.

Note: We have recently worked in partnership with Marie Curie to produce a video guide to help medical professionals communicate better with patients with ASD nearing the end of life.


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