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Thriving through adversity: Leveraging digital technology to support ADHD and autism pathways

Topics: Industry insights Mental Health

The mental health of children and young people is more critical than ever.

Good mental health is the foundation of a child’s development, influencing cognitive and emotional well-being. It helps them build resilience, cope with challenges, and thrive in various aspects of life. However, the reality for many children in the UK is starkly different. 

Recent statistics paint a concerning picture; one in five children and young people in England had a probable mental illness in 2023, a significant increase from previous years. Additionally, nearly one million children accessed mental health services over the same period, showing how hard services are trying, amid such demand.

Yet sadly, The Children’s Commissioner for England reported that over a quarter of a million children are still waiting for mental health support, many of whom sit on waiting lists for neurodevelopmental assessments such as ADHD and autism. Complicating ADHD and autism assessments are “hidden waits” which describe the fact that many children need multiple appointments and other investigations before a diagnosis can be reached, extending the wait between referral and diagnosis even further. 

Impact On Learning 

For these children, the impacts can be profound and multi-faceted, affecting various aspects of a child’s life. For instance, children waiting for neurodevelopment assessments often experience massive disruption in their learning and school attendance. Studies have shown that children with ADHD are far more likely to have absenteeism complicated by anxiety, frustration, and difficulties within the family environment. Similarly, those awaiting autism assessments are at greater risk of school exclusion and show poorer educational outcomes than their peers as delays in diagnosis can also lead to delays in support to thrive within schools. 

Impacts on need for Urgent and Emergency Care 

Moreover, the lack of a timely diagnosis and intervention can lead to increased need for urgent interventions such as attending healthcare settings in crisis. Children with undiagnosed ADHD or autism can experience heightened levels of distress leading to more frequent visits to emergency departments at times of difficulty compared to children without a mental health diagnosis.

Impacts on Families 

Prolonged wait times can make the family environment more challenging, leaving family members in a state of uncertainty and stress, contributing further to a worsening in a child’s mental health and wellbeing. Healthcare providers strive to offer the best care possible under challenging circumstances, making it crucial to ensure families do not feel abandoned or unsupported during these critical periods.

Digital Solutions: Illuminating the path 

Navigating the maze of mental health services, resources and potential support can be daunting, particularly when families are facing delays in getting care from the people they feel are best placed to help. But what if digital technologies could turn this maze into a well-lit path? Imagine a world where there is clarity for service users on the healthcare journey that lies ahead, co-ordination of all the various reports and questionnaires needed along the way, regular check-ins with opportunities to report deterioration and personalised resources just a few clicks away. Digital technologies can play a transformative role here, offering a lifeline to children, families, and healthcare providers alike. 

Using the THRIVE framework, which guides the transformation of children and young people’s mental health services, let us explore how specific digital solutions can help address these challenges head on.


Digital platforms can help ensure advice, help, and risk support are available in a timely manner, right where children and their families are - be that at home, school, or elsewhere in the community.  

  • Shared Patient Health Records: A shared patient health record accessible via a digital platform can enable families to see the status of referrals and appointments, reducing anxiety and improving transparency. 
  • Digital Scheduling Tools: These tools allow families to book, reschedule, and receive reminders about their appointments, ensuring better management of their time and reducing missed appointments. This empowers children and families, giving them some control over their care journey while also benefiting the providers through reduced appointment wastage. 
  • Real-Time Updates: Providing real-time updates on the status of referrals and appointments can help keep families informed and reduce uncertainty. 
Proactive Prevention and Promotion 

Prevention and health promotion form the cornerstone of effective care. Digital solutions can personalise education and support content to the needs of the child and their family. Not only that, but the style and approach of these materials can be pitched to the individual needs of the person consuming them. This might include self-help, local support groups, specific resources to meet a particular need, and access to a wider selection of interactive apps or online modules to support families while they wait. 

  • Personalised Education and Support Content: Digital solutions can tailor educational and support resources to the specific needs of the child and their family, providing self-help options, access to local support groups, and targeted resources. 
  • Digital Questionnaires: Regular check-ins through digital questionnaires can capture updated information about a child’s symptoms and challenges, feeding into a feedback loop with healthcare providers to help them make decisions about resource prioritisation. 
  • Third-Party Application Integration: Linking families to third-party applications can provide broader support networks and resources tailored to their needs, enhancing the overall support system. 
Shared Decision Making 

Enhancing communication with children and families to keep them informed and updated is crucial. Effective care planning is a vital component of this, where involving service users in the way care is delivered and planning strategies to handle crisis episodes is crucial. Not only that, but digital solutions can provide resources that can be easily consumed by children to enhance their understanding of their healthcare journey and support the creation of care plans personalised to a specific child’s needs. 

  • Shared Decision-Making Resources: Digital platforms can provide educational materials that are easily accessible and understandable by children, helping them to grasp their healthcare journey and support meaningful involvement. 
  • Real-Time Communication: These platforms can facilitate real-time communication between families and healthcare providers, allowing for the sharing of preferences, concerns, and updates. 
  • Collaborative Care Plans: Digital tools can enable families to participate in creating and updating care plans collaboratively with their healthcare team, ensuring that the plans are personalised and meet the child's specific needs. 
Partnership Working 

Supporting the way in which all partners involved in caring for the child remain connected and aware is essential. Digital solutions can connect various parts of the child’s circle of care, coordinate the tasks required from each party, and link different reports, feedback, and information relating to the child in one system. 

  • Managing Tasks Across Different Organisations: Digital platforms can integrate input from teachers, therapists, and healthcare professionals, ensuring that all stakeholders are aligned and informed about the child’s needs and progress.
  • Bringing Information Together: These systems can link different reports, feedback, and information about the child, providing a comprehensive view that supports coordinated care efforts. 
Outcome-Informed Care 

Using feedback and data to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions ensures continuous improvement. Digital technologies can capture and analyse data on outcomes, providing insights into the effectiveness of different interventions and allowing for more informed decisions about care pathways. 

  • Data Capture Tools: Digital data capture tools can collect relevant data from various touch points in the care process, providing a comprehensive view of the child’s progress and the impact of different interventions. It can also prove time saving to those delivering care by collecting standardised information before appointments enabling them to focus on the issues that really matter during the consultations themselves. 
  • Continuous Feedback: Providing continuous feedback to healthcare providers can help them adjust interventions based on real-time data, improving the overall quality of care. 


By leveraging technology, we can create a more responsive, inclusive, and effective system that truly supports the mental health and well-being of children and young people. In doing so, we have the best chance of these children adapting and thriving in the face of challenges. 

By thoughtfully integrating digital solutions into the care pathways for children with suspected neurodevelopmental disorders, we can address the significant gaps in current healthcare provision. Digital technologies can provide a bridge during waiting periods, ensuring continuous support, better coordination, and ultimately, more timely and effective care for those who need it most. Through shared health records, personalised resources, enhanced communication, digital scheduling, and data-driven insights, we can empower families and professionals to work together in supporting the child’s journey to better health and well-being. 

For more on how DrDoctor helps to bridge the technology gap and support children and families on ADHD and autism pathways, discover how our solutions work for mental health.