A FRESH autism guideline for Scotland has been launched that recognises the condition can affect people of both genders at any age.

A new national clinical guideline makes recommendations for effective assessment, diagnosis and interventions for autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The recommendation reflects the growing body of evidence that ASD affects boys and girls equally, and can present across all ages.

ASD covers conditions termed autism, atypical autism and Asperger syndrome which are complex developmental disorders that affect social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.

In children with ASD, the symptoms, which can range from subtle problems of understanding and impaired social function to severe disabilities, are often present before the age of three, but some people are not diagnosed until adulthood because of the complexities of the disorder.

The new guideline – entitled Sign 145 (Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network): Assessment, diagnosis and interventions for autism spectrum disorders – is based on a review of evidence and updates all previous guidelines.

It also addresses the current challenges healthcare professionals face, highlighting the identification of symptoms of ASD in females, who may present differently to males, recognising signs and symptoms of ASD in adults, who may not have previously been considered for diagnosis, and also that it can be present across all ages including adults over 65.

Dr Iain McClure, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist for NHS Lothian and chairman of the guideline development group, said: “We know that prompt diagnosis and appropriate intervention, specialised educational programmes, and structured support may help a person with ASD maximise his or her potential.

“We believe that use of this guideline by healthcare professionals will help ensure the most effective diagnosis and care for people with ASD, no matter which gender or at what age they present.”

Sign is part of Healthcare Improvement Scotland, a public body formed in 2011 to look at improving the quality of health and social care.

Sara Twaddle, Healthcare Improvement Scotland director of evidence, said: “This guideline meets the need for recommendations on diagnosis and treatment which reflect the whole age range of people with ASD.

“The inclusion of adults is in response to the increasing understanding that ASD is a lifelong condition in which the core features persist while manifesting differently according to different age stages.

“Moreover, we know that the number of females presenting with ASD is consistently under-reported due to misdiagnosis. We would encourage all healthcare professionals to use this guideline to help ensure the best care and support possible for anyone with ASD.”

Earlier this year, charities said Scottish schoolchildren with conditions such as autism and dyslexia were not getting the support they need because councils were failing to identify them

The warning came after new figures showed marked discrepancies in the proportion of pupils identified with additional support needs (ASN) in different council areas.

Figures from the 2015 national pupil census showed only five per cent of pupils in primary schools in North Lanarkshire were identified with ASN compared with 24 per cent of pupils in Glasgow. North Ayrshire recorded 26 per cent of pupils in primary having ASN, while its neighbour South Ayrshire recorded just nine per cent. In Aberdeen, 15 per cent of secondary pupils were identified with ASN, but in Aberdeenshire the figure was 33 per cent.

A spokesman for Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said: “This worrying inconsistency in gathering information on and identifying those with ASN by local authorities requires clearer and comprehensive guidance from the Scottish Government.”