I see from today’s Saturday Observer (“Attitudes to autism must be changed”, page 15) that the National Autistic Society has spoken to 1400 people with autism to compile their latest report on the condition. In an effort to explain the condition, they describe autism as “like waking up in another country where no-one speaks your language and people live by a set of social rules which are completely alien to you.”
The NAS report claims that 63% of sufferers of autism simply don’t have adequate support to meet their needs.
The article describes Harry Roberts of Tenterden, whose 37 year old daughter Nadya has had autism since she was twenty. Although she now has adequate support, in 2005 Nadya spent a year in a ‘mental hospital’ because the residential home where she lived was unable to cope with her challenging behaviour.
We simply have to do more. I hear again and again from families and carers dealing with autism that the biggest problem is understanding – that autism isn’t a “mental illness”, and that not everyone with autism is like Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Rainman’. In fact, high intellectual capacity, or ‘savantism’ is only found in around 2% to 3% of those with autism.
I’ve asked for a Select Committee on Autism at Kent County Council, so that a group of Members and officers can spend properly resourced time interviewing experts and talking to those with autism and their carers and families, to give us a better idea of how to provide the best support and care services.
Because the notion of ‘waking up in another country’ isn’t something I want anyone to have to go through.