Drive to improve autism services

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A strategy to help people affected by autism in Wales is set to be launched, with the Welsh Assembly Government claiming it to be a world first.

The action plan aims to improve services in health, social services and education - and expand into areas of housing, leisure and general society.

The assembly government has pledged £1.8m for the programme's first year.

An estimated 30,000 in Wales are affected - directly or indirectly - by the learning disability.

Details of the Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) strategic action plan is to be launched later at the third Wales International Autism Conference organised by Autism Cymru in Cardiff.

Hugh Morgan, chief executive of Autism Cymru, will lead the development of needs and services over the next year, which have to be undertaken by every council in Wales.

WHAT IS AUTISM? Autism is a developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and interacts with other peoplePeople with autism cannot relate to others in a meaningful way. They also have trouble making sense of the world at largeAs a result, their ability to develop friendships is impairedThey also have a limited capacity to understand other people's feelingsAutism is often also associated with learning disabilitiesNobody knows what causes autism, although genetic factors are likely to play a crucial roleSource: BBC health online

The assembly government says it has identified funding for the next three years.

Announcing the action plan, deputy minister for social services, Gwenda Thomas, said: "An increasing number of people are being diagnosed with Autism in Wales and there is a need to improve the provision that is available for children, young people and adults with ASD."

Education minister Jane Hutt added: "We need to ensure that practitioners are able to recognise where young people are having difficulties and are able to support them so that they fulfil their potential.

Simon and Nicola Davies, from Llanelli, whose eight-year-old son Robbie is autistic, said they hoped the scheme would provide better help for families and carers.

"It's difficult for any parent," said Mrs Davies, who is a teacher and also has a five year old daughter.


"For us, Robbie is severely autistic. He's non-verbal, he's not yet toilet trained, he's got poor co-ordination, he's got sensory processing difficulties and he's got a touch of ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder], which means that you have to be alert 24 hours a day seven days a week.

"He needs one-to-one attention all the time he's awake because his behaviour's so unpredictable."

She added: "It makes family life very difficult indeed because he takes up so much of our time."

Ms Thomas said she believed the new plan would help Robbie and his family.

"Hopefully it will deliver better services and it will follow Robbie's life pattern and this is exceedingly important through childhood through young adulthood to adulthood," she said.

Mr Morgan added: "I think that certainly over the first year what we have to do is for the circumstances of Robbie and his family and the many thousands affected by autism wherever they should live within Wales.

"We have to first identify far more effectively than we're doing now what their needs are.

"We need to identify the range of support that they're going to require from now and on a long-lasting basis."