"..improve and harmonize our European approach to this condition” Joaquin Fuentes

ESCAP practice guidance paper for autism

ESCAP are proud to announce that Joaquin Fuentes, ESCAP autism field advisor, and his ASD working group have generated the first ESCAP practice guidance on autism paper.

ESCAP wants to be at the forefront of providing clear and practical information on mental health issues affecting children and adolescents across Europe. We want to support psychiatric professionals in their training, knowledge and clinical practice. Many good practice guidance papers exist for autism (NICE, AACAP, Autism Alliance to name a few), however, ESCAP are fully aware that European psychiatrists require more national practice guidelines that can be adapted according to cultural and language differences. In an attempt to offer this to our ESCAP community, we aim to publish practice guidance papers on various disorders in the coming years.

In July 2015, ESCAP appointed Joaquin Fuentes as ESCAP autism field advisor, three years later, two other experts, Amaia Hervas and Patricia Howlin were assigned to make an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) working group. Five years on, the ASD working group supported by the ESCAP Board publish the first ESCAP practice guidance on autism paper in the European Child + Adolescent Psychiatry journal.

Autism is the shorthand term for autism spectrum disorder, described by the DSM-5 as a neurodevelopmental disorder. Reports vary according to its global prevalence, ranging from 0.6% to 3%, but what is clear is that its diagnosis is increasing dramatically. The disorder not only affects the diagnosed individual, but the disorder impinges on the life of the parents and siblings of the individual.

View ESCAP Practice Guidance Paper on Autism

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 Below, we continued to ask questions to Joaquin, once the article had been accepted. 

What were your main aims for this guidance paper?

“To disseminate information that can be adopted for use in regular clinical practice across Europe. To present clinicians and educators with evidence-based advice on core and minimum standards for good practice in the assessment and treatment of citizens with autism of all ages. We, and I speak in plural, because I  had the support of two splendid colleagues: Dr. Amaia Hervás, from Barcelona, and Dr. Patricia Howlin, from London, have fulfilled, as the ESCAP ASD Working Party, the mandate we received from the Board and have generated this fundamental document”.

What do you think the paper gives to the psychiatry community? Does it feel a gap? 

“Our child and adolescent psychiatry community is very diverse; but even so, in most European countries, the availability of services is limited. The ESCAP ASD Practice Guidance provides updated advice for the health, educational and social fields. I certainly hope that this material will diminish the existing gaps in between our countries, and improve and harmonize our European approach to this condition”.

How would you anticipate European countries use this paper? 

“It must be emphasized that this Practice Guidance has been formally endorsed, for the first time in history, by the Board of ESCAP, and should be, therefore, applicable in the 34 member nations. Our joint hope is to have this document adapted, by local and national experts, to the current conditions, culture and languages of all those countries. We are committed by our ethical mandate towards these citizens and their families”.

Where do you feel that research and clinical assessment will go in the future for autism?

“In our Practice Guidance we insist in individualization and explain how to go behind the clinical diagnosis and understand the person him or herself. To determine strengths and limitations and to liaise with them, and with their legal representatives, in designing a context-friendly plan, that will empower them and maximize their well-being and their clinical, research and community participation. This is, in our view, the road ahead for them and for us. An excellent road for society and an exciting, human and technical, road for our medical specialty”.

Joaquin also adds that “there is a need to demonstrate the validity and reliability of the traditional clinical instruments and methods for economically or socially disadvantaged groups, ethnic or racial minorities, or for individuals with co-occurring disorders. We fully acknowledge and applaud the outstanding accomplishments of those individuals for whom autism may be a benefit, even a gift. Nevertheless, as practitioners, we have a duty to direct our efforts towards those who are disadvantaged by autism; the many millions of citizens across Europe and the world whose human rights, including medical and psychiatric needs, continue to be unmet”.

ESCAP hopes that “these guidance papers will be used by our national member societies and colleagues throughout Europe, in which they can adapt them to country-specific recommendations and even translate the language to generate an international consensus on treating and diagnosing autism” explains ESCAP president Dimitris Anagnostopoulos. He adds, “we are extremely thankful to the ASD working party and Jean-Philippe Raynaud of the ESCAP Clinical Division for their huge efforts in producing such a detailed and essential document”.

Here, we provide direct access to the article and would welcome comments and feedback.

Download the ESCAP Practice Guidance Paper on Autism

If you are interested in supporting ESCAP on the clinical guidance paper initiatives then please contact our editor, clinical division head or ESCAP president for further information.