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SBRIH C20 Autism and Learning Disabilities Competition for Development funding

Deadline for applications: 6th June 2022

The competition opens on Monday 23rd May 2022. The deadline for applications is at 13:00 BST on Wednesday 6th July 2022 .

SBRIH C20 Autism and Learning Disabilities Challenge

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people and how they experience the world around them. A learning disability is also a lifelong condition that presents with a significantly reduced ability to understand complex information, learn new skills, and to live autonomously without the need for everyday care support.

Diagnosing co-occurring conditions is a long and complicated process, and while the NHS aims to assess an autism referral between 13 (Northern Ireland) and 26 weeks (Wales), data obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Autism and Norman Lamb MP in 2018 show these targets are being routinely missed. Moreover, the number of referrals requested through the NHS have increased since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and, in November 2020, the NHS reported around 150,000 individuals in contact with learning disabilities and autism services.

People with autism and learning disabilities face significant health inequalities and the NHS strongly recognise this. As an example, NHS Digital reported that those with learning disabilities would be between 3.9 – 4.2 times more likely to die prematurely than those with broadly the same characteristics in the general population3. Changes implemented as part of the pandemic exacerbated these inequalities as services were distanced from carers and users, with closures of group care facilities and community-based centres, causing increased risk of mental health deterioration among these people. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) reported a significant increase in deaths among people with a learning disability and autistic people during Covid4.  Moreover, people with autism from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups have particularly been experiencing challenges getting a diagnosis and access to support services.

Potential solutions

  1.     Technologies that can improve the identification and diagnosis of autism and learning disabilities in children through early years provision that includes Health Visitors, School Nurses and educational settings. 
  2. Innovations to improve awareness/vigilance of signs and symptoms of autism and learning disabilities, including vague symptoms and/or  support assessments of complex cases to differentiate autism/learning disabilities from other multiple conditions, e.g. ADHD, dyslexia, executive dysfunction. This can include, but is not limited to, technologies that can risk stratify patients with less severe symptoms of autism and learning disabilities and flag individuals with complex support needs, as well as educational tools for families/carers. 
  3. Technologies that provide better links and communication channels between stakeholders to support ongoing engagement and completion of diagnostic pathways.
  4. Tools to upskill the health and social care workforce, and auxiliary services (e.g. in education settings) and provide them with the knowledge, skills and evidence-based resources to carry out earlier and more effective assessments, including but not limited to enhanced links between social care, primary and secondary care.

The project will be 100% funded up to the value of £100,000 (NET costs, excl. VAT) for a maximum of 6 months. Project costs can include:



        Capital equipment


        Travel & subsistence


Please ensure the proposed project deliverables could be reasonably achieved within the proposed contract duration, and all requested costs are justified and represent fair market value.

Please note that SBRI is a pre-commercial procurement process and the resulting development contract is subject to VAT. VAT is the responsibility of the invoicing business.