18 April 2013

Putting autism on the agenda

AWP's Wiltshire Autism Diagnostic Service (WADS) has been on a tour of towns in their region recently to encourage people to find out more about autism.

With the team being rather small, that responsibility fell to the clinical service manager for WADS, Shirley Sheldon. "We - that's me and colleagues from Wiltshire County Council (WCC) - have been to Trowbridge, Salisbury, Devizes and Chippenham to try and raise awareness across Wiltshire. This carries on from work we were doing last year with WCC on awareness training for anyone employed by the council - police, fire, care agencies, librarians..."

"The reason we're doing this stems in part from the 2009 Autism Act which dictated that PCTs had to have a diagnostic service and councils had to raise awareness on areas which affected those with autism. Often, this group of people was being missed."

The implications of them "being missed" can lead to massive social isolation. Only about 15% of people with autism currently have a job so they are missing out on a lot of the usual things that people get by going to work. "That's significant," says Shirley, "because 1 in 4 of us meet our partners in work; 55% of us meet best friends at work, and around 75% of people go out with friends from work at the week. So if you don't have a job and aren't "part of society" then you miss out on an awful lot. That's why we have to help them."

Without a diagnosis, many people are going through life feeling they don't fit in and failing in some areas without understanding why. Once they've received a diagnosis it makes it easier for them to get the help and support on offer.

How can these roadshows help though? "Any one of us can meet someone with autism at any point in our lives," says Shirley.

"A good example is the traffic warden I spoke to at the Salisbury roadshow recently. I asked him what he wanted the leaflets and information for, and he said he never knew when he stopped a driver whether it might be someone with autism.

"The more people we can reach in our communities and workplaces means a greater chance of improving life for people with autism."

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