Hundreds of Northern Ireland schoolchildren are having to wait too long for an autism assessment, MLAs have been told.
According to the latest figures, outlined in the Assembly, 900 children have not been seen by health experts within the recommended 13 weeks.
Almost half, 476 have been waiting longer than 26 weeks with 78 forced to wait more than a year, it was claimed.
SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley said: “These are children, who if they are found to have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) will not have got the support that they require in school and outside of school during the time they have spent waiting for a diagnosis to be complete.”
MLAs were also told autism rates had increased by 67 per cent over the past five years, with one in 54 school pupils being diagnosed with ASD.
Mr Bradley added: “It is very clear that the prevalence of autism is increasing in our society but that is not being accompanied by the necessary increase in support and services and by the necessary decrease in waiting times for diagnosis and for early intervention.”
Sinn Fein’s Maeve McLaughlin, who sits on the health and education scrutiny committees, said there was an obligation for both departments to tackle the backlog.
She said: “There needs to be a much stronger formal duty from both departments to co-operate.”
Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend said she had been “inundated” with complaints from frustrated parents and exasperated teachers.