The UK’s first independent purpose-built autism centre has opened, with the aim of dramatically reducing the waiting time for a diagnosis.
Currently, the average waiting time to be assessed for autism is at least two years, and the children who are eventually diagnosed wait on average for four years.
The £18m centre, set in the grounds of Keele University, will enable families to get a diagnosis within just six weeks.
An early autism diagnosis can be vital in helping families understand their child’s behaviour.
Victoria Priest, a mum-of-six, said she spent nearly 10 years trying to get a diagnosis for her daughter.
She added: “Layla was our third child and at nine months old we took her to the doctor.
“She rocked severely and I knew something wasn’t right but we were told to ignore it by health professionals and told that she’d grow out of it.
“As she got older, she became disruptive. We’d tried everything to get some sort of diagnosis, but nobody seemed to care and nobody would listen to us.”
Ms Priest added: “This new centre will provide hope for thousands of families like us that are fighting to get a diagnosis for their children.”
The development of the complex has been funded by a group of philanthropists, with £10m coming from the businessman John Caudwell.
The Caudwell International Centre will bring together assessment, diagnosis, family support and research into autism.
As well as reducing diagnosis time, its other main focuses are to enable families to receive assessment from a number of professionals in one place, and to provide world class support for those affected by the condition.
Facilities include state-of-the art assessment suites, a sensory garden to help children interact with nature, and therapy suites for ongoing workshops for families.
Mr Caudwell said “Right from the beginning I thought what we’re going to do is, we’re going to iconically help the lives of children with autism. We’re going to set a new standard and hopefully prove that we can intervene in the condition, and make the challenges less for those parents who have got children with autism.”
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