Traditional inpatient assessment and treatment units (ATUs) are used when an individual with autism has a behavioural crisis or mental health deterioration in their current placement which requires further assessment and treatment. But ATUs had become little more than holding pens for difficult people and the problems associated with them have been widely reported. It has been government policy to close down ATUs, placing people in community settings instead.
However, as autism specialists we recognise that people in crisis must have somewhere to go. We are building a new generation of in-patient assessment, which treats people with dignity and respect and aims – from day one – to work towards them leaving for a home in the community.
Our in-patient service will ensure patients have highly autism-specific care plans, delivered by expert staff in a calm, low arousal environment. The maximum length of stay will be six months.
Despite the current increasing level of need there remain no autism-specific units of this kind in our area: the nearest similar unit is 55 miles away in Bolton.
Research conducted by the National Autistic Society (2017) found that waiting times for diagnosis were far too long. On average, on average children wait 3.5 years for a diagnosis and adults over two years after asking for help – many having to wait even longer.
Receiving an early diagnosis helps families come to terms with the condition and, vitally, opens up opportunities for social care support.
The new centre will allow children and adults to receive a formal diagnosis much faster than the current NHS system allows.
Once opened, the revenue costs of running our new operation will be met from fees paid by local authorities or by families in receipt of direct payments, and we know from our discussions with local authorities that there would be considerable demand for our specialist service.