The National Autistic Society has been working with MPs to not only improve legislation on issues which affect the lives of people with autism but also on the policies which matter.
Part of this work is recognising some of the barriers and challenges that people with autism face. MPs now have access to help and support from the charity and have been encouraging MPs staff to also get involved.
My staff attended an Understanding Autism session kindly organised by staff from Wendy Morton MP's . Staff from Amanda Milling MP's office were also present. This training and confidence building will not only help us all make surgeries more accessible for people with autism but allow us to develop our understanding of what to do if a constituent is facing difficulty or struggling to communicate their needs.
It was also interesting to hear that other MPs offices are facing some similar requests to mine from their constituents, particularly in relation to organising ECHPs for young people and in particular when an EHCP is in place, why the focus is mostly on the educational side, rather than on the care and social side too. This is something I regularly raise on both a local and national level with Staffordshire County Council, the NHS and Ministers at the Department of Health and Social Care. Reducing the need for restraint and restrictive intervention is also a concern I have raised with local schools and the Department for Education.
On the adult side of things, ensuring people with autism are not sectioned when having a meltdown or shutdown is incredibly important. Similarly making workplaces better equipped to reasonably adjust, reducing social isolation and ensuring transitional support is place when people move from their school years into adulthood. Experiences of the criminal justice system and ensuring a person with a disability can access support and is not criminalised due to poor understanding of their condition. Issues I will continue to raise with the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Health and Social Care. Our local Job Centre actively works with disability confident employers and is regularly encouraging more employers to get on board with the scheme.
Another interesting aspect was the concept of shops and venues holding an 'autism hour', whilst this may at first appear gimmicky, less sound, bright lights and sensory overload, it was helpful to learn that not only do these sessions allow more people to access a service they may otherwise avoid, but also provide a calming space if a person with autism needs to take a break.
I will do what I can to encourage more venues and retail spaces to offer an autism hour (or longer!).
If you have autism, are going through the process of being diagnosed or are a carer seeking support, the National Autistic Society may be able to help. You can find out more about their work at www.autism.org.uk