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Those with Autism need support and understanding not political games

October 22, 2016 11:55 AM

Autism is a subject about which there is much more public awareness now than ever before, although of course there is still much more work to do. Autism is a "spectrum" condition, all autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways and they will require different levels of support.

Last week there was a debate at the Assembly, put forward by the Conservatives, which asked for the introduction of an Autism Bill. The Liberal Democrats were criticised by Plaid because our one Assembly Member, Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams, voted against it. Yet as usual there is more to the background than the cheap political shots imply.

There are a number of major changes under way with regards to supporting people with autism.

The Social Services and well-being Act came into effect in April and as yet it is too soon to be able to assess the evidence as to whether that is actually achieving its objectives which includes offering additional support to those with a whole range of special needs.

When the Act was introduced the Welsh Lib Dems actually opposed it as we didn't think it went far enough. Plaid and the Tories supported it, so it is a bit rich for them to say the Act isn't doing enough at this early stage.

The Welsh Government is also about to introduce the 'Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal Bill'. which will take into account the needs of children and young people on the autism spectrum. The programme will address key issues that have been raised by parents, such as the need for learners and their parents to be at the centre of decisions about the support and planning process, and the importance of skilled and confident professionals with greater multi-agency collaboration.

There will be a refreshed action autism plan in November and this will be accompanied by a delivery plan to monitor implementation and to measure any progress.

The roll out of the new national integrated autism service began in April, which set out to change the way in which care and support is delivered to people with autism. This service was backed by £6 million of investment in the last budget , a budget we supported whilst the other opposition parties voted against.

Once the effectiveness, or otherwise, of these initiatives has been assessed then the Welsh Government will be in a position to decide whether an Autism Bill is actually needed, and if so then they certainly have not ruled that out. They are working with NAS Cymru (National Autistic Society) to explore whether there are parts of their proposed Bill that are not already being delivered by these initiatives.

Autism is estimated to affect around 1 in a 100 people in the UK. People who are affected, and their families, need appropriate support and understanding. What they don't need is for AMs to be playing politics over it.