CHILDREN with autism are victims of a postcode lottery with waiting times varying by years depending on where they live, a North-East MP told a Westminster debate today.

In Stockton families are having to wait up to four years for a diagnosis, compared with just six months in neighbouring Middlesbrough, Stockton South MP Paul Williams told a Westminster debate.

Along with a number of other MPs, he is campaigning for the government to introduce a waiting times standard for autism diagnosis, as currently there are no benchmarks.

However, guidelines from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend that the diagnosis process, which can take six months, should start within three months of a referral.

Dr Williams said: “The delay - sometimes of two, three, four years, is agonising.

“The delays in diagnosis aren’t just an obstacle for those with autism, they are a roadblock, causing frustration for those with autism and their families.

“Delays leave many of them unable to obtain the education and social support they need to meet their everyday needs. Delays mean that during the crucial years of child development, children aren’t receiving optimal care.”

He was accompanied to the Westminster Hall debate by Stuart Dexter, chief executive of Stockton-based autism charity Daisy Chain, who is working with Dr Williams to get a fair deal for families affected by autism.

The problem is nationwide, but there are no official figures for waiting times, so the evidence in each area is anecdotal.

Teesside families’ stories helped inform Dr Williams’ Parliamentary speech where he asked the government for two things; to set a target for the time a diagnosis of autism should take and to collect data on waiting times across the country. Almost every other health condition is measured in this way but not autism diagnosis.

Stuart Dexter, Daisy Chain CEO said: “At Daisy Chain we know first-hand the distress that a delayed autism diagnosis can cause to families. Although a diagnosis isn’t everything it triggers certain support services, enables families to put strategies in place to accommodate the needs of their children and opens the doors to appropriate education services.”

Dr Paul Williams added: “In order to help families and people with autism across Teesside, this Government needs to treat autism as a priority - measure the figures of people diagnosed with autism and impose targets for the diagnosis times. A child with autism cannot afford to lose years of their education awaiting diagnosis just as the families cannot struggle to cope without key services.”

Autism affects 1 in 100 people and it is estimated that 2.8m people in the UK are in families affected by autism. It is hoped the Government will introduce legislation to collect data on how long it takes to receive a diagnosis and to set a target for waiting times.

Dr Williams said he had more than 500 families from Stockton got in touch with him when he asked for feedback ahead of his debate.