Public services urged to 'think autism'
Health services and the criminal justice system are among services being urged to consider the needs of users with autism – such as offering a quiet space in A&E if needed.
Dementia-friendly community schemes have become more common across the country in recent years, with training available to organisations so staff can support service users with the condition.
And in Staffordshire it has been suggested a similar scheme could help residents living with autism, who may face challenges in areas such as communication.
More than 300 people with autism are known to the county’s adult social care services. And a further 2,000 children and young people are known to the Autism Outreach Team according to a plan which sets out how Staffordshire County Council and NHS services aim to support residents with the condition and their families over the next three years.
The plan said: “Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that can significantly impact the lives of people living with it. Autism affects individuals in a variety of ways and can affect their ability to live an independent life to varying degrees. It is a spectrum condition, which means that while all people with autism share certain areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in different ways.
“Autism is not a mental health condition or a learning disability. However, around half of people with autism have a learning disability and three quarters are likely to have a mental health condition at some point during their lives.
“Many people with autism can and do live independently if reasonable adjustments are applied to universal services. This plan aims to encourage all services and organisations to ‘think autism’ and maximise opportunities to help people with autism in Staffordshire to live fulfilling lives and feel part of society.”
Last autumn the council sought views from health and social care providers, professionals and people with experience of autism as part of the development of the plan.
People with autism highlighted the need for support during big life changes, such as leaving school, getting older and bereavement, as well as services and commissioners understanding how their condition would affect them differently through their lives.
Other priorities included help and support for family members and timely diagnosis from trained professionals.
At this month’s healthy Staffordshire select committee county councillors highlighted areas of life where the experiences of people with autism may need additional consideration, such as courts, hospitals and job-seeking.
Councillor Charlotte Atkins said: “If someone with autism went into a busy A&E department what reasonable adjustments would be made to accommodate the issues around their autism?
“Would there be someone who would be able to identify the issues if they were waiting for triage or who would be able to establish whether not to have a quiet place to go?”
Richard Harling, director of health and care at Staffordshire County Council, responded: “It is less likely for one person but more likely for the workforce in general. It may be we have someone who is a champion but investing that in one individual is going to be difficult.”
Councillor Johnny McMahon said: “We have talked about dementia-friendly communities and there are particular strategies for that – I wonder whether a similar approach would be worthwhile for autism?”
Further work is due to be carried out this year to develop a more thorough understanding of the needs of people with autism, including a review of any future Joint Strategic Needs Assessment programme, the plan said.
Councillor Carolyn Trowbridge added: “The autism spectrum is huge. There are people on it that are very autistic and there are people with autism or Asperger’s who maybe don’t even want to have the label ‘I’m autistic’. Can I add into the plan how to deal with people doing their best to cope with it on their own?”
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