BETTER-INFORMED parents and children increasingly recognising their own traits are behind a 600% increase in referrals for autism and ADHD assessments, according to the head of the Neurodevelopmental Service within CAMHS.
Referrals have jumped into the hundreds since 2020, including more children being referred at a younger age – creating months-long waiting lists for those wanting to be diagnosed.
The government has confirmed that a specialist doctor has been re-hired to help deal with the backlog.
More information available on social media has contributed to better awareness among children and parents, according to Toni Cooper, service manager of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service’s Neurodevelopmental Service, which was set up to help children and parents to get the right diagnosis and then access services.
Mrs Cooper was previously a senior youth worker and team leader in the Youth Service. Her own 11-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was eight, and Mrs Cooper also founded We Believe You Belong – a support service for parents and carers of children with the disorder, after finding it challenging to get support.
Commenting on the spike in referrals, Mrs Cooper said: “I have a feeling it’s to do with awareness.
“Parents are generally more in tune with their children and spend a lot more time with them, so they’re picking up on more traits.”
She added that “we’re seeing children come through a lot younger”.
The service is seeing an increase in very young patients, she said, with some too young to even get a diagnosis – ADHD cannot be diagnosed in children under five, as it is too difficult to tell which traits are an expected part of a child’s development and which are a symptom of ADHD. Though they cannot be diagnosed, they can still receive support through a specialist clinic run for very young patients and their families.
Mrs Cooper added that more girls were being diagnosed with autism.
“Girls are very good at masking,” she added, describing how they can adapt to neurotypical environments during the day, “reining it in as much as they can” – only to be overwhelmed and lash out when they get home.
Others recognise themselves on social media, she said. “You just need to look at TikTok and it’s all over. That’s definitely another reason.
“I think we’re living in a world now where people are more accepting of others.”
It was recently revealed that the number of referrals for ADHD and autism assessments had increased almost 600% in three years, jumping from 51 for ADHD and 80 for autism in 2020 to 373 for ADHD and 244 for autism in 2022. In the period between January and August this year, there were 384 referrals for ADHD assessments and 184 for autism.
The Neurodevelopmental Service Mrs Cooper leads, which was launched in the spring, is being revamped, while continuing to support patients – which Mrs Cooper describes as “challenging”.
She said: “We’re moving in the right direction, which is amazing.
“But with the influx in numbers, it’s challenging because no one could have ever imagined this would have happened.”
The revamped offering is to include sessions for siblings of neurodiverse children, webinars and a young person’s participation group.
Mrs Cooper added: “It’s only going to get better for children in Jersey.”
The service is also creating information packs and sessions for children and their families to understand what support is available to them, and has re-hired a specialist doctor.
Associate director for children’s health and wellbeing Dr Darren Bowring, said: “An experienced locum doctor who has previously worked with CAMHS returned to the department earlier this week on an initial three-month contract. There has been a significant increase in requests for diagnostic assessments for ADHD and they will provide valuable additional capacity to this pathway.
“Their responsibilities will include completing ADHD assessments and delivering treatment support, as part of a team effort to provide valuable assistance for children, young people and families in Jersey.”