This is Autism Awareness Week, which provides an opportunity to raise awareness of a condition that affects many families in all our communities, and over half a million people across England.
Many will know people on the autistic spectrum. I know from constituents and family friends some of the challenges in bringing up children with the condition and the transition into coping as an adult.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people communicate and interact with others. Being a spectrum condition, it affects people in different ways, often accompanied by other learning difficulties and mental health problems, or in some cases an exceptional skill or focus. Around 50% of people with autism have a learning difficulty, and 70% typically have at least one other mental and behavioural disorder. These often include anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.
In Shropshire, there are various support networks to offer advice and help to those with autism, and their families and loved ones. For example, Shropshire Autism Hub runs a free drop in service for adults with autism and their carers on Thursdays, 12-4pm, at Meole Brace. More information is available at http://shropshireautismhub.moonfruit.com. But there is also considerable information on the Shropshire Council website, via www.shropshire.gov.uk/early-help/parentscarers/information-and-resources/autism.
Helping those with autism requires a cross-government approach, ensuring health, education, welfare and local government work in a joined up way to ensure the best possible outcomes.
In 2010, the coalition government produced the first autism strategy for England: ‘Fulfilling and rewarding lives’. This strategy was updated in 2014, setting a renewed focus on three key areas: building communities aware of autism; promoting innovation in service provision; and providing integrated care.
One way to help those with autism is to identify autism and diagnose early, so that the correct support systems can be put in place. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has published three clinical guidelines and a quality standard on autism, recommending a maximum of three months between a referral and a first appointment for an assessment for autism.
By fostering greater awareness of the challenges of autism, we can help remove some of the stigma and ensure people get the support they need. I have asked Shropshire Council and Shropshire CCG to coordinate efforts to give support to people in Shropshire with autism and their families.