By Aled Thomas from Penarth who's a member of Plaid Ifanc
AUTISM is one of the most talked about conditions in Wales today as we become more aware of it, particularly as an Autism Bill for Wales is currently in the pipeline. The number of people in Wales being diagnosed with the condition is increasing but many of those diagnosed do not access appropriate levels of support in the community.
The autism spectrum is a condition that is often misunderstood. It is often not viewed as a disability. Many of those living with a diagnosis may be seen to be living normal lives as they are not visibly disabled. But don’t be fooled; a disability isn’t always visible. That is why specialist autism support needs to be given the same status of need as other disabilities.
Autism provision must be improved. A Welsh Autism Bill is perhaps necessary and may be the only way to safeguard the rights of those individuals living with autism and particularly those who need regular access to continuous support in the community.
Research shows that there are a lot of people living in Wales who believe they are living with autism, who haven’t had a diagnosis due to a lack of awareness or resources within their community. This needs to be changed.
The concept of a safe-space drop-in centre in the community that gives focussed support for adults living with autism is, I believe, the only way forward to ensure the provision of supported social groups, employment support and post-diagnostic care. This needs to be maintained on a daily basis. This type of support is currently only provided by third sector Autism Spectrum Connections Cymru (ASCC) and the government doesn’t seem to be recognising this as something which they ought to be supporting financially.
I and many others recently took part in a research project conducted by the Wales Autism Research Centre (WARC) which was a test for the display of social imagination. As part of this study, I was given the chance to answer questions which allowed me to express my creative ability in what was a highly beneficial study. This has greatly increased the understanding of autism, particularly in terms of understanding the creative thinking of people with autism. While previously it has been said that people with autism lack imagination in a social context, this project has proved that people with autism can successfully express their creative abilities. The creative space at ASCC allows one to be creative on a wide scale and should help one not to feel isolated, misunderstood or stigmatised for living with this special condition.
People with autism are as different to each other as neurotypicals (non-autistics) are to each other. The negative influence from stereotypes should be reduced in order for people with autism to feel comfortable and fully integrated in their community, and only then will they feel accepted for their differences, whatever they may be.
Whilst there isn’t a cure for autism, there are ways in which reasonable adjustments can be arranged, particularly in the workplace, to ensure that adults with autism are living and working in a comfortable environment.
Autism is neither a learning disability nor a mental health condition and these categories do not help us to understand the condition as a whole. Autistic people may or may not suffer from anxiety and depression, may have a low or high IQ, and may or may not suffer with dyspraxia, dyslexia or dyscalculia. But nonetheless, people with autism interpret social situations and communicate differently to those who are not on the autistic spectrum.
I understand the challenges that people with autism face. I was diagnosed with autism as a young adult of 19 years of age. It is almost guaranteed that people who have been diagnosed with autism have probably experienced traumatic social problems including bullying and social exclusion in their lives.
One issue that is often heard about is the lack of understanding towards people with autism. Another issue is the lack of services that can provide psychological and emotional support.
Our autism support services currently provided by the statutory sector are limited and only some are fortunate enough to be living close enough to third sector ASCC. ASCC provides specialist autism support for adults with autism in South East Wales but more effort could be made by the Welsh Government to help them with their work.
Advances such as continuous one to one support and post diagnostic after care are essential for the well-being of autistic people and to help them fulfil their potential in life, which in turn would save the NHS a lot of money. Supporting this resource and investing in the well-being of people with autism would prevent having to spend NHS money to overcome more serious issues which might occur through a deficiency in autistic friendly resources.
This investment could help individuals avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety caused by the strain of living with autism and who haven’t had access to the necessary support.
Support can help make life more enjoyable, help to avoid loneliness and prevent lack of motivation. This provision can make a life changing difference to the overall health and quality of life of an autistic individual.
Wales is lagging behind Scotland – there are already two one-stop shops like ASCC operating up there that do receive some statutory support. They are places where autism is accepted as the norm.
True evolution, in my view, is a marriage between the autistic and the norm. A full endorsement of this philosophy should be adopted by society in Wales.
Hopefully things will change: an autism bill will be passed and the provision will improve.
November is Autism Awareness Month and is an opportunity to contemplate the rights that people with autism deserve. We must make these changes happen.