On 14th June 2017, the Welsh Assembly voted regarding whether Paul Davies, AM for Preseli Pembrokeshire, may introduce his proposed autism bill. The vote was an overriding success, with 40 AMs voting to back the introduction of the bill and 9 abstaining. Paul Davies now has thirteen months to draft a formal bill which could become law.
But what does this mean for families in Wales who live with autism?
If the law gets passed, £13m will be ring-fenced to be spent on a National Integrated Autism Service over a period of four years. It is intended that this will provide:
- A clear pathway to diagnosis in every local area
- The understanding of the local authority and the health board and for them to take action so that children and adults get the support they need in a timely manner
- A central register of autistic people so that the local authority can plan accordingly
- Give autism its own statutory identity rather than it being combined with general learning disabilities
- The requirement that all key staff working with people with autism receive autism training
Although there is work to be done, awareness and understanding of autism is growing, and in some areas, many of the points are being covered. So why is this bill needed?
- Performance and sustainability in care and support services, regardless of the financial or political climate. Currently, services are removed as quickly as they are put in place due to budget cuts and changes in policy. Having the needs of people with autism stated in law will ensure that this no longer happens.
- Ensures momentum for improvement isn’t lost. It is easy for the ‘something is better than nothing’ approach to be taken regarding services provided. This will no longer be the case if requirements are set out in law. It will be mandatory for the needs of all people with autism to be met, regardless of area, wealth and level of education.
- Standards and delivery of training can be monitored on an ongoing and permanent basis. Currently, those working with autistic people do not have to have received specific autism training. If the bill becomes law, this will be mandatory, and updated on a regular basis.
- Clarity and reassurance regarding the pathway to diagnosis with the health board being held accountable by law for the provision of a clear pathway. This will ensure that the route to diagnosis doesn’t differ by local authority, or even by each paediatrician. The families affected will be provided with a clear process which will be followed.
- The identification of people with autism without the risk of subsuming it within learning disability, with the responsibility of addressing the gaps being placed with the health board and local authorities. This will ensure that the needs of all autistic people being met, regardless of their educational and learning requirements.
It is clear that although there is some way to go, the overwhelming positivity that was met with the draft bill is fantastic. Autism awareness has met with government, and the changes proposed seem to be designed to help families, like our members, who are so desperately in need.
You can find further information regarding this bill on the Welsh Assembly Government website.