IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


New report highlights GPs' need for training in autism

16 May 2017


A new report by the Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE) at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) reveals that GPs have limited confidence in their abilities to identify and care for autistic patients.

Working with the Royal College of General Practitioners, CRAE launched an online self-report study to assess GPs' confidence in caring for their patients on the autism spectrum. The study sought to understand GPs' experiences of working with autistic patients, how much they knew about autism, and whether they have had any autism training. 

Of the 304 GPs surveyed, 91% reported having at least one autistic patient currently in their care. Despite this, 40% had not received formal training in autism. Although the GPs had good knowledge of autism's key features, they reported limited confidence in caring for their autistic patients. Many cited a number of barriers that overwhelmingly focused on perceived failings of the current healthcare system (such as a lack of clarity around referral pathways). 

Almost half of responders reported having some personal connection with autism. Writing in The Conversation, Principal Investigator Professor Liz Pellicano said:

"To compensate for their lack of training, GPs seem to be relying on their own experiences of autism - through autistic family members, friends or colleagues - as a source of tacit knowledge. Yet autism affects different people in different ways. An over-reliance on personal knowledge of autism might lead to GPs having a narrow, idiosyncratic view of autism. This could result in GPs missing the signs of autism, especially in people who don't neatly fit the autism stereotype (such as women and girls).

Autism affects one in 100 people - over 700,000 people in the UK. The report reveals an urgent need for improved local specialist service provision alongside clearer referral pathways for diagnosis to improve both GPs' confidence in caring for their autistic patients and the healthcare experiences of autistic patients and their families.

Professor Pellicano argues that local clinical commissioning groups are best served to assist GPs in ensuring that they can reliably detect the condition and make appropriate provisions for support.