First of its kind autism centre aims to dramatically cut diagnosis waiting time | UK News

The UK’s first independent purpose-built autism centre has opened, with the aim of dramatically reducing the waiting time for a diagnosis.

Sky News was given a first look at the Caudwell International Children’s Centre (CICC) in Staffordshire, which is expected to transform the way the hundreds of thousands with the condition in the UK and their families can be helped.

The average waiting time to be assessed for autism is at least two years, and the childen who are eventually diagnosed wait on average for four years.

The £18m centre, set in the grounds of Keele University, will enable families to get a diagnosis within just six weeks.

An early autism diagnosis can be vital in helping families understand their child’s behaviour.

After years of struggling and not understanding the condition, Abbie and Sophie Dempsey were told they were autistic aged nine and 11.

Abbie, who lives with her family in Biddulph, Staffordshire, told Sky News: “It was hard, because I didn’t understand a lot of things, and I wasn’t really getting much attention.

“If I did ask for anything, not a lot of people would be able to help me.”

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Abbie Dempsey has said she ‘didn’t understand a lot of things’ before she was diagnosed

For Abbie and her parents the long wait for a diagnosis was frustrating.

Her mother Alison said: “It took a lot out of me.

“We weren’t given any letter to say this is what you could do, this is where you can go to.

“(Nothing to say) you could go to this place to get any help.”

Victoria Priest, a mum-of-six, said she spent nearly 10 years trying to get a diagnosis for her daughter.

She added: “Layla was our third child and at nine months old we took her to the doctor.

“She rocked severely and I knew something wasn’t right but we were told to ignore it by health professionals and told that she’d grow out of it.

“As she got older, she became disruptive. We’d tried everything to get some sort of diagnosis, but nobody seemed to care and nobody would listen to us.”

The facility aims to transform the lives of the million of people affected by autism
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The facility aims to transform the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people affected by autism

Layla visited the Caudwell International Children’s Centre in March and was given a diagnosis within two weeks of her assessment.

Ms Priest added: “This new centre will provide hope for thousands of families like us that are fighting to get a diagnosis for their children.”

The development of the complex has been funded by a group of philanthropists, with £10m coming from the businessman John Caudwell.

Mr Caudwell says he wants to 'iconically help the lives of children with autism'
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Mr Caudwell says he wants to ‘iconically help the lives of children with autism’

The Caudwell International Centre will bring together assessment, diagnosis, family support and research into autism.

As well as reducing diagnosis time, its other main focuses are to enable families to receive assessment from a number of professionals in one place, and to provide world class support for those affected by the condition.

Mr Caudwell told Sky News: “Right from the beginning I thought what we’re going to do is, we’re going to iconically help the lives of children with autism.

“We’re going to set a new standard and hopefully prove that we can intervene in the condition, and make the challenges less for those parents who have got children with autism.”

The centre will offer ongoing support for families following an autism diagnosis through educational workshops and programmes.

Staff will also be working closely with clinical and academic partners from the international autism community to share insight and research.

Facilities include state-of-the art assessment suites, a sensory garden to help children interact with nature, and therapy suites for ongoing workshops for families.

Trudi Beswick, chief executive of the centre, said: “We have spent the last 19 years listening to families consistently telling us they do not get the support they need.

“It is their stories that are at the heart of this project and their needs have shaped the new service and the centre.

“When all evidence points to the long-term benefits of early intervention, the delays families face are not acceptable and Caudwell Centre aims to change the way families access support and prove there is a better way.”

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