Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Raising our game to help families with autism

Published in Llanelli Herald on 28th April 2017

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.

The Welsh Labour Government has just announced an additional £7 million investment into the new national autism service for Wales, which will provide lifetime support for children and adults.

The Integrated Autism Service offers help with emotional and behavioural issues, support to access leisure and improved diagnostic assessment. It was set up last March and will be rolled across Wales by next year thanks to a total of £13 million of investment by the Welsh Government so far .

There’s been an immediate improvement in the appalling waiting times for families in the Hywel Dda area. But the situation is nowhere near good enough. It needs to keep improving, and I’m confident that it will.

The funds will help deliver the target of a 26-week waiting time from referral to first appointment for children with autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions, along with speeding up access to support.

Speaking as someone with personal experience of how difficult it can be for families living with autism.

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 the Welsh Government’s new plan focuses on improving assessment, diagnosis and support for people on the autism spectrum. It will be led by the new integrated autism service, which 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 keep working on but the new £7m funding is a significant step forward.

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.

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