As part of World Autism Awareness Week, I attended an Adult Autism Family Workshop on Wednesday 6th April hosted by Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and facilitated by Patricia Reaney.
Rodney Morton, Head of Improvement within the Directorate of Social Care and Children’s services in the Health and Social Care board, laid out a vision to listen to and understand the issues adults with autism and their families face, and to work with them to design effective services enabling people to take more control over their lives, and preparing properly for children with autism to become adults.
He wanted agencies to work together to ensure support for key transitions, including to adulthood, seeking a strengths-based approach, but always with the key question: how do we use core services to support adults with autism?
The keynote speakers were Shirelle Stewart and Caroline Bogue of the National Autistic Society, who focussed on the issues autistic adults and their families can face, particularly when transitioning to become adults. (The recordings are a little obscured by speaking notes sitting on top of the mic!)
Particular issues faced when transitioning from childhood to adulthood included:
- communication skills
- reluctance to engage
- hidden needs
- resistance to change
- denial and not accepting their diagnosis
- moving on in education, including support, choices, criteria, bullying, transport, lack of understanding from others
- poor employment prospects (15% of adults with autism in full time employment, 9% in part time employment)
- barriers to employment, including bad interviews, training, support, adjustments, understanding, workplace bullying
- claiming benefits, including processes
- independent living skills
- support as they and their carers get older
- social isolation
After that, Kirsty Quigg, social worker with the adult autism team, told the story of one of her clients, a parent of a child with autism who has autism herself.
Before lunch, Bridie McElhill, Clinical Psychologist invited the carers to fill in questionnaires about their top five priorities for two areas: the needs of those they cared for, and their own needs as carers.
After lunch, Bridie fed back on the consultation, before a panel discussion. Inevitable questions included the £2 million allocated by Health Minister Simon Hamilton, joined up services across departments, together with suggestions of making Public Health Agency awareness advertisements for autism.
I came away from it encouraged, but I could be very biased [Only very? – Ed] – I certainly think there is a determination to make things better and actually solve problems.
The question will be: will there be the political will to make sure that different departments and areas work together as they should to provide a properly joined-up service?