I think all Members would concur that waiting nine years is absolutely unacceptable. To be fair, that is at one end of the waiting-time limit, but it is clear that there are many delays in many areas, often running to years. One local authority has recently admitted that it has delays of 125 weeks. Collectively, Members from all parties need to work together to try to bring down delays of that length, because they mean that support and intervention may be less effective when it arrives, and lead to parents losing confidence in the system. As with many other conditions, illnesses or whatever we call them—it is difficult to find a suitable noun that actually describes autism—early intervention is absolutely the key.
There is clear evidence that a positive experience in the diagnostic process is associated with lower levels of stress and more effective coping strategies for families. We have heard in previous debates about the lack of data on waiting times. This April is meant to see the start of new standards on the collation and publication of such data. I hope the Minister will update the House on where we are with that. There is a need for better data on the number of diagnoses and who is being diagnosed with autism, so that we can identify where there are gaps. The National Autistic Society has reported that more than three quarters of people who use its adult services are male, but there is a concern that that may be related to a lack of recognition for women and girls with autism. Similarly, there is a generation of people for whom autism was not a recognised condition when they were younger.