Leeds City Council’s Helen Gee, Autism Spectrum Conditions Commissioning and Development Officer, talks about the future developments in Leeds around making things better for people on the autistic spectrum.
Helen, why is autism so high on the Adult Social Care agenda now?
Autism was identified in the 1940’s but it wasn’t until a lot later that it became better known and Asperger’s syndrome (part of the autistic spectrum) wasn’t really recognised until the late 1980’s. This means that there were no spaces left in the ‘system’ for people with autism unless they had another condition as well. This was particularly the case for adults as services for children developed a bit earlier.
In 2009 the Autism Act (the first disability specific legislation) was passed. The national strategy that followed was ‘Fulfilling And Rewarding Lives’, and gave local authorities and health services guidance about what needed to be done.
Responsibility for doing this work lies with Adult Social Care, but there are lots of other agencies and people that are working with us to change the way they work, and to make things better for people on the autistic spectrum. There have been some really good examples of partnership work as well.
One of our main tasks is to let people know that we need to change both systems, and how we all relate to people on the autistic spectrum. I can really see that we have done some good work – there is a lot more awareness now and some pieces of the jigsaw are beginning to be filled in, but we have still a lot to do.
So what is being done, by who, for whom and when?
Adult Social Care appointed someone with the responsibility to work on this agenda (that’s me!) in 2010. The first thing we did was to bring together a multi-agency group of people to develop a strategy. We worked on a first draft, consulted widely on that and then launched the strategy in January 2012 (you can download a copy of this strategy here: http://www.leeds.gov.uk/residents/Pages/Autism.aspx)
We have done quite a lot of things since then too.
We set up a partnership board which meets quarterly and reviews everything that is going on and suggests other important areas for work. There are two groups that support the partnership board – one for people on the autistic spectrum and one for carers of people on the autistic spectrum. They meet before the board meetings and have the first slots on the agenda to raise the issues they think are important. More information about the Autism Board can be found here: http://www.leeds.gov.uk/residents/Pages/Autism.aspx.
Examples of some of the other areas of work we are doing are:
Assessment and diagnosis
The clinical commissioning groups have funded a diagnostic service in Leeds. Before that people had to go to Sheffield for a diagnosis. Adult Social Care works in partnership with the diagnostic team to make sure that there is a pathway from diagnosis to social care assessment. We will have champions in all the social work teams to make sure that autistic people get a good quality service.
One of the things people told us at the beginning of this was that they really wanted to be able to get a job. We started joint working with the Department of Work and Pensions and have made a number of changes – including setting up two work preparation schemes suitable for people on the spectrum and all job centre staff will have autism awareness training.
Further training for and by people on the autistic spectrum
In Leeds we saw that there was a need for more autism awareness training and a demand for training from people on the autistic spectrum. We knew some autistic people wanted to deliver training. We had some ‘one-off money’ to make this sustainable we decided to aid a social enterprise to deliver the training, and to train and support people on the spectrum to co-deliver. We hoped that when the money had run out they would then be able to fund their continued work by charging for training. We worked in partnership with the council’s “Ideas that Change Lives” scheme – they support new social enterprise start-ups and offered support to our bidders.
We ended up choosing an existing provider with a training arm, rather than an individual who would need to set up an organisation. The successful organisation, Autism Plus, is using the money to recruit and train co-trainers, and to subsidise the training in order to reach people who might not use other training providers. They will report to us on the numbers, satisfaction levels of training and on the outcomes for those autistic individuals involved.
Thank you for talking to us Helen. If you would like more information, you can email Helen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next, Councillor Adam Ogilvie interviews Christine, parent of Amber, a child with autism, who runs Ambers Autism Awareness (AAA) who persuaded the Leeds Arena to go blue and also works with Leeds Autism Services.