Tuesday, 15 March 2016

It’s hard to be different

This column was published in the Llanelli Herald on March 11th 2016

I’ve just finished a funny and charming book called The Rosie Project.
It tells the story about a man who has spent his days organizing his life to make himself more efficient - cooking the same meal every week so that he can buy exactly the right ingredients every week, for example. He decides to take the same approach to finding a wife and devises a questionnaire to root out people who do not fit into his very exacting criteria.
It soon becomes apparent that the man has Asperger’s Syndrome, and the book amounts to a humorous, and tender, exploration of what life is like for people with this poorly understood condition.
The book is a bestseller and comes a decade after the brilliant book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is also now a hit play.
These are all important efforts to try and change attitudes, and raise awareness, of conditions that just a few generations ago would have seen some people institutionalised for having.
It is estimated that Around 700,000 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum. It affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all autistic people share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people are able to live relatively independent lives but others may need a lifetime of specialist support.
This week the Welsh Labour Government announced a new national autism service for Wales, which will provide lifetime support for children and adults.  It’s part of plan that is being consulted upon and will be backed by £6m over the next three years. The plan focuses on raising awareness of autistic spectrum disorder and ensuring information, advice and training is available to all.
Recently the National Autistic Society Cymru said that service provision for the 34,000 people with autism and Asperger syndrome in Wales is "patchy". Crucially this new plan focuses on improving assessment, diagnosis and support for people with ASD. It will be led by a new integrated autism service, which will be launched this year and will be rolled out across Wales by 2019.
The new service will be based on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s best practice standards and will include a focus on multi-disciplinary working, ensuring people with autism receive joined up services and support.  
Like all well intentioned plans the way it is rolled out and resourced is the key, and that’s something we’ll have to work on.
But the things that can make the biggest difference is how we all understand the condition, and the people who are affected by it. And that’s something we can all make an effort to do.

Lee Waters is Welsh Labour’s Assembly Candidate for Llanelli.

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