Schools are struggling to cope with the rise in autism diagnoses for pupils, according to new official figures and inspection reports on the issue. Autism diagnoses have risen by 25 percent in the last four years.

iNews reports that, reforms to special education needs and disability funding (SEND) has caused children who would previously be categorised as having behavioural needs, to be diagnosed with autism instead. The significant increase is due to changes brought about under the Children and Families Act 2014, with one area in the UK seeing an almost 40 percent jump in pupils with autism diagnoses since 2012.

Ofsted and health and care regulator, the Care Quality Commission, found that 11 out of their 13 joint inspections of local authorities, noted a rising number of autism diagnoses being made.

An inspection of Bolton council’s children services found that not enough clinical staff are available to handle the increases:

“Despite the clinical commissioning group responding by appointing additional practitioners, so that diagnoses are maintained within accepted timescales, the local area is struggling to meet the demand for referrals and diagnosis for autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).”

A recent government census of pupils found that children with autism make up over a quarter (25.9 percent) of all pupils with SEND requirements, compared with 24.5 percent in 2015.

Autism rise due to assessment changes

Commenting on the findings, Kat Dockery, an SEND co-ordinator at an academy in Birmingham explained to Schools Week, how changes to pupil SEN assessment has had a dramatic knock on effect:

“Pupils used to get statements for behaviour and it would be presented as a behavioural difficulty. With that category gone because of reform to the SEN code, they now look at it and think, ‘it might be autism’.”

Schools Week data shows that at Gloucestershire County, there has been a 35 percent rise in autism diagnoses over the last three years. At Greater Manchester Council, there has been a 39 percent increase since 2012.

The findings come as new figures revealed that under half of all new special free schools were being equipped to meet the requirements of autistic children.