Autism

This section covers both children and adults with autism. The term ‘autism’ is an umbrella term for all conditions on the Autistic Spectrum including Asperger’s Syndrome. It is used in the National Autism Strategy and adopted by national key autism representative groups including the National Autistic Society.

What do we know?

Autism is defined as a life-long developmental ‘hidden’ condition that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of support.

The three main areas of difference, which all people with autism share, are known as the ‘triad of impairments’. They are differences in relation to:

  • Social communication (for example problems using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice).
  • Social interaction (for example problems in recognising and understanding other people's feelings and managing their own).
  • Social imagination (for example problems in understanding and predicting other people’s intentions and behaviour, adapting to new or unfamiliar situations and imagining situations outside their own routine).

Many people with autism may also experience some form of sensory issue, either over or under-sensitivity, for example to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours and may experience some difficulties with fine and gross motor activities.

Autism is known as a ‘spectrum condition’ because although all people with autism share three main areas of difference, their condition will affect them in very different ways. There is no ‘cure’ for autism although its impact can be managed better with early and appropriate advice and intervention.

Facts, Figures and Trends

Children with a diagnosis of autism

During the 2014/2015 school year there were 316 children recorded as having a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) in Slough schools. This represents 1.08% of all pupils which is slightly higher than the previous year’s figure of 0.92% which is similar to the national average.

Figure 1. School children in Slough with a recorded diagnosis of ASD

Figure 1: Numbers of clients by reported level of satisfaction with local services
 

Adults with autism

The Projecting Adult Needs and Services Information System uses Office for National Statistics population projections to estimate that the number of adults with an autistic spectrum disorder in Slough was approximately 940 in 2015. There is very little data on the needs of adults with autism either nationally or locally.

National and local strategies (current best practices)

National

The first National Autism Strategy “Think Autism: fulfilling and rewarding lives, the strategy for adults with autism in adults” was as a response to the Autism Act 2009. It sets out the Government’s vision for adults with autism, which is that:

“All adults with autism are able to live fulfilling and rewarding lives within a society that accepts and understands them. They can get a diagnosis and access support when they need it, and they can depend on mainstream public services to treat them fairly as individuals, helping them make the most of their talents.”

In order to achieve this vision, it has identified five key areas of action for public bodies to address in order to ensure better outcomes for adults with autism. These are:

  • Increasing public awareness and understanding of autism.
  • Developing clear and consistent pathways for diagnosis of autism identification and diagnosis of autism in adults.
  • Improving access for adults with autism to the services and support they need to live independently.
  • Helping adults with autism into work.
  • Enabling partners to develop relevant services for adults with autism to meet identified needs and priorities.

Local

Slough Borough Council’s Autism Strategy “Joining the Dots” sets out five priority areas for local partnerships in working with adults and children with autism. These are as follows:

  • Local Priority Area 1: Improved Health and Wellbeing
  • Local Priority Area 2: Increased awareness and understanding of autism
  • Local Priority Area 3: Seamless transition processes
  • Local Priority Area 4: Social inclusion
  • Local Priority Area 5: Support for people with autism and their families.

What is this telling us?

There is an increasing demand on local services that support children and young people with autism. While specialist autism services work well with those families who have received a diagnosis of ASD, anecdotal reports suggest that families who are awaiting a diagnosis for a child with symptoms and signs of autism struggle to receive support.

What are the key inequalities?

There are a number of national documents that identify inequalities experienced by people with autism. These inequalities become particularly significant for many young people as they move on from childhood, as often they find themselves “falling through” local services if they do not have either a learning disability or mental health condition.

Valuing People Now, the government’s strategy for people with learning disabilities, recognised that people with autism are some of the most excluded and least heard people in society. It identifies a number of inequalities experienced by people with autism. These include social and economic exclusion as well as poor health outcomes.

Without adequate support, these factors then place them at high risk of severe health and mental health problems, homelessness, and descent into crime or addiction.

A report by The National Autistic Society summarises the lack of support adults with autism experience. As a result of this lack of support , they conclude:

  • two thirds of adults with autism (67%) say they have experienced anxiety because of a lack of support
  • one third of adults with autism (33%) say they have experienced serious mental health problems because of a lack of support.

What are the unmet needs/service gaps?

  • While support for families having had a diagnosis of ASD has improved significantly in Slough, there remains a need for support for parents of children with symptoms of ASD who have yet to receive a firm diagnosis
  • There is a lack of information on the needs of adults with autism

Recommendations for consideration by other key organisations:

  • To be aware of and implement recommendations of the local Autism Strategy “Joining the Dots”

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