Tom Brake MP warns: Mental health services are failing children with autism

June 28, 2010 9:56 PM
Tom Brake signs up to the pledge

Services for children with autism are often available but not accessed

Carshalton and Wallington MP Tom Brake has warned that thousands of children with autism in England are needlessly facing a future of mental health problems, because the NHS does not know how to help them.

Tom is backing a new campaign by the National Autistic Society (NAS), You Need to Know, which aims to tackle an unfit mental health system that fails two thirds of children with autism and often makes their mental health worse.

Tom said; "If children with autism are given the help they need, this has a major and positive impact on their health and happiness. A more responsive system would prevent many mental health problems and stop the tragic waste of their potential."

Over 70%* of children with autism have a mental health problem, such as depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and other anxiety disorders, despite the fact that many of these problems are preventable. Autism is a complex disability and so when mental health problems do develop in children with the condition they are much harder to recognise, diagnose and treat without appropriate knowledge. Tragically, they are often dismissed as an unfortunate, but unavoidable side effect of having autism.

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the NAS said; "All too often children with autism receive inappropriate, ineffectual and sometimes harmful treatment of their mental health problems. This has a devastating effect on families many of whom develop their own mental health problems as a result. Parents and professionals alike are crying out for more autism support and so we are delighted to have Tom's backing. The NHS needs to know how to help, and the Government needs to know it can't wait."

Over 450 parents surveyed for the You Need to Know campaign revealed:

• Mental health services failed to improve the mental health of two thirds of children with autism

• 43% of parents whose children are currently registered with mental health services said their child's mental health had got worse because they could not get the services they needed

• Over half of parents do not think that mental health services know how to communicate with their child

• 83% of the children first experienced mental health problems before the age of ten, and half before the age of five

• Nine out of ten parents said that the mental health problems their child faced had had a negative impact on their own mental health and that of the whole family. Over a quarter of family members needed support from mental health services as a result.

• The minority of parents who said they had been able to get specialist autism help were twice as likely to say their child's mental health had improved.

With the right support at the right time children with autism can have good mental health just as anyone else can - the You Need to Know campaign aims to make this a reality. The NAS is calling for the Government to act now to make mental health services work for children with autism and change their future. This includes autism training for mental health professionals and access to specialist autism support in every area.

Tom Brake is also calling on local children and families affected by autism to nominate their Happiness Hero - an individual who has gone the extra mile to support a child with autism. It could be a mental health professional, teacher, youth group worker or another individual who has made a positive difference to the life of a child with autism. For more information, visit

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