We must improve public understanding of autism so autistic people get the support they need
We need to recognise the challenges that autistic people may face, so we can celebrate their unique talents and skills, says Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP.
I profoundly believe that every person has the potential within them to contribute to society, and that it is all our responsibility to help others to do that. So, we must improve public understanding of autism so autistic people get the support they need. Too often, a lack of awareness and understanding can sadly impact on autistic people and their families’ daily lives and lead to social isolation. We need to recognise the challenges that autistic people may face, so we can celebrate their unique talents and skills.
National Autism Awareness Week rightly shines a spotlight on this issue and research shows there is a need to do much better. It’s shocking that only 16% of autistic people and their families think the public understand the condition in a meaningful way (NAS, 2015).
I want a public autism awareness raising campaign, so that we can improve perceptions of the condition and ensure people are understanding and appreciative of the situations autistic people may find challenging. As Secretary of State for Health and Social Care I will make that happen later this year.
We are currently reviewing our national autism strategy, and we have listened to the views of stakeholders and have decided to extend the next strategy to cover children as well as adults for the first time. So if you’re autistic or support someone who is, don’t forget to feed in your wider views to the review of the strategy.
This week I visited the Sycamore Trust’s autism centre in Dagenham and heard a brilliant presentation from Autism Ambassadors Francesca and Alex who replicated the experience of sensory overload by surrounding me with people shouting about their week - a vivid illustration of what can be a daily experience for autistic people.
The whole of society has a role to play in enabling autistic people to live healthy, independent lives and participate fully in their local communities. Many local businesses and services are already doing great work to promote autism inclusive communities.
For example, Darlington’s Cornmill Shopping Centre has a weekly “quiet hour” on Sundays for people on the autism spectrum and other conditions. I’ve even heard of the innovative use of wearable technology to help measure stress and anxiety levels to help autistic people communicate their discomfort.
I’m pleased that autism and learning disabilities are one of the four clinical priority areas in our historic NHS Long Term Plan and through this the NHS is working to improve community support and invest in specialist support and community crisis care, backed by an extra £33.9 billion extra every year for our NHS in cash terms by 2024.
I am passionate about building a more autism aware and inclusive society, one where autistic people and their families can go about their daily lives in their communities without fear of judgement. I am looking forward to making progress on this and hope that next year we can celebrate some real improvements in autism awareness in our country.
Matt Hancock is Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Conservative MP for West Suffolk.
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