• Autism and the campaign by the National Autistic Society

    Securing an early diagnosis is fundamental to ensuring that people with autism, and their families, can access the right support. Yet research from the NAS has found that people are waiting years for an autism diagnosis. Indeed, a survey by Public Health England found that in one local authority waiting times stood at 125 weeks.

    In August 2015, the NAS launched a campaign to end what it described as a “crisis” in autism diagnosis. I pay tribute to the NAS and all involved with this campaign, which led to data on autism diagnosis waiting times being collected and published for the first time by NHS England from April 2018. Guidelines state that an autism diagnosis should be started within three months of the referral from the patient’s GP. However, data was not previously collected and it was difficult to identify gaps in treatment and support.

    The Government has acknowledged that more needs to be done to improve the lives of people living with autism. In its Think Autism strategy, Ministers have outlined that there should be a pathway to diagnosis, care and support in every local area to improve recognition, speed up the process of diagnosis, and meet individuals’ advice and support needs.

    I believe it is right to put an end to social isolation and ensure that autistic people can access the whole of their community and receive the support they deserve. It is vital to work with employers, trade unions, schools and public services to improve awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace and society. Indeed, at the General Election I stood on a manifesto with an ambition to make our country autism-friendly.

    I have consistently campaigned on the issues facing people diagnosed with autism across St Helens having met with parents to discuss the needs of children with autism in the constituency and backed Saints launch of a replica shirt for Rugby League’s Magic Weekend which carried the logo of St Helens Autism Support.

    There are some great organisations in St Helens such as St Helens Autism Support which make a massive difference in the area by helping raise awareness of the condition and aiding people, particularly children, with all levels of autism.

    It is clear that more needs to be done to support the mental health needs of people living with autism. Between 70% and 80% of autistic people develop mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and four out of 10 children with autism have at least two mental health challenges.