Emma Huddleston’s son Caden lasted half a term at his new secondary school before he became so overwhelmed he could no longer attend.

He got a referral to the Children and Young People’s Service (CYPS) for suspected autism but the family were told it would take the best part of two years for an assessment.

“We were in crisis mode – there was no way we could have waited two years,” said Emma, from Winlaton in Gateshead.

Emma works at a GP’s surgery and a colleague told her about the Right to Choose option on the NHS. That gives families the right to choose which provider the GP refers them to, including private services that work with the NHS.

So Emma opted for her son to be seen by a private company in Harrogate. The whole process took less than three months and he was diagnosed as autistic in April.

“We chose the company because it’s not far away. But we would have driven anywhere if it would have made it quicker,” Emma said.

If I hadn’t worked in a surgery, I would never have known about Right to Choose. We would still be in limbo.

The family will use the assessment report as evidence in an appeal for an Education, Health and Care Plan for 12-year-old Caden, after an earlier application was turned down.

But Emma still worries that Gateshead Council will not accept the report because it’s from a private provider. “We were told by the school not to go private because the council wouldn’t accept it. So we felt trapped in a no-win situation.”

That aside, she’s pleased Caden has had the assessment. “The diagnosis means a lot to us. It answers a lot of questions and it’s about my son’s identity.

“All children should have access to quicker assessments. But CYPS are totally inundated. All these people are in crisis and there is no help.”

See our story on waiting lists