Some of the world’s leading experts on autism have shared a redesigned care pathway for autistic children and their families. Published in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, the new pathway created by an international team aims to improve the organisation of health and care services for autistic people in the UK and internationally.

“Existing services are reactive and often unevidenced,” said Professor Jonathan Green from the University of Manchester, “But we now have the evidence and ideas to enable us to redesign care for autistic children and families in a way that fits the 21st century.”

Professor Andrew Whitehouse from the Telethon Kids Institute in Australia added, “Too often we see autism therapies and supports untethered to any evidence. By contrast, this new pathway is deeply embedded in 20 years of clinical research and holds great promise of connecting [autistic] children to the evidence-based supports that they need.”

The team suggest an integrated early care pathway will improve the service autistic children and their families receive. To create the pathway, the team looked at the highest-quality evidence in autism as well as what has worked for other long-term health conditions like cystic fibrosis and some mental health disorders.

We want to move from a system with long waiting lists which is often reactive to crises to an integrated system that identifies needs earlier.

Professor Jonathan Green

Professor Green continued, “We have tried in this model to combine the best ideas from how services are organized for other health conditions internationally, the best evidence from our field on identification of neurodiversity and associated care, along with listening to what families and the autistic community say they need.”

At Autistica we’re delighted to see so much of this work chime with what is in the Autistica Support Plan. We worked hard to build a plan that meets our ambition to ensure all autistic people are offered proven support from day one. This publication from the international team clearly shows the vital importance of establishing the right early and ongoing supports when it comes to changing the lives of autistic people and their families.

The authors propose an integrated system of supportive care through case management and targeted additional specialist intervention, known as stepped-care. This ongoing care system uses new digital health technologies and collaborative work with parents to provide them with appropriate long-term supports for their child’s evolving needs.

“We want to move from a system with long waiting lists which is often reactive to crises to an integrated system that identifies needs earlier on and provides the appropriate early support that will provide enduring support and minimize later difficulties. Innovations in digital health technologies will be important in making such a system workable,” Professor Green concluded.

"This integrated planned model of service delivery… has the potential to provide a blueprint for support and interventions for autistic children and their families across the world,” said Dr Venkat Reddy, Consultant Neurodevelopmental Paediatrician and Lead Clinician, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, “This is extremely timely as we are all trying to develop long term strategies and action plans to achieve early recognition and needs led support for autistic children."

Find out more about Autistica’s visionary and ambitious 2030 Goals, including ensuring all autistic people are offered personalised support from day one. As part of that Goal we published the Autistica Support Plan in November 2021.

: Professor Green is a trustee of Autistica.