I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan and all the team that she talked about earlier.
In the short time I have been in this place, numerous families have come to my surgery despairing about the time it is taking to get an autism diagnosis for their child. The diagnosis is obvious to those individual parents, and to many of their friends and family, but without the clinical diagnosis these children are trapped. One very moving case recently involved a seven-year-old boy. Almost two years ago now, he was referred to the community paediatrician. His first appointment took nine months to materialise, when he was diagnosed with ADHD. In January this year, he was referred for a communication assessment, and in March his parents received a letter saying there will be a further seven-month delay in accessing this assessment. This little boy’s behaviour means he is excluded from school for more time than he is at school, and I am sure that my hon. Friend Mrs Trevelyan can relate to the story I am telling. The school has tried to support him—it has done its best—but of course it has a duty of care to other children. He is about to move from infant school to junior school, and that in itself is causing a problem. The school he should naturally be going to has refused to take him, as it just cannot cope with his behaviour, yet until he has received that autism diagnosis he is unable to access a special needs school—so this is a Catch-22 situation. This is just one of a number of cases I could highlight, and I am sure it mirrors cases that people from across the Chamber have encountered.
To help another child stuck in the system, I wrote to the Health Minister last July to highlight the unacceptable delays. I got a comprehensive response, but, sadly, nine months on, nothing seems to have changed in Derbyshire. I get the same message from officials time and again that they are still recruiting a community paediatrician and are looking to implement new pathways. I know that the pathways and the services are determined locally, but I ask the Minister to do whatever he can to ensure that the children of Erewash, and indeed of the whole of Derbyshire—my hon. Friend Pauline Latham has also highlighted the issue—get a timely diagnosis for their autism spectrum disorder.
In advance of this debate, I was contacted by a number of constituents. One parent carer of a young man with autism asked me to relay her story. She movingly described how repeatedly being requested to prove that he is autistic and to fill out form after form makes her son’s behaviour “go through the roof”. She says:
“My son’s autism is very complex and I have to speak to him in a certain way, explaining the meaning of words. This is very important because it can lead to violence if you use the wrong words.”
That is violence against her. She says that the tone of her voice and her body language are of “utmost importance”. She says:
“Please, stop and think, not everyone can be the same. We need understanding as well as policies that help.”
At the moment, they feel that the policies are devastating their lives.
I think that I have managed to reduce my time quite well. The National Autistic Society’s report “Too Much Information” is aimed at improving the understanding of autism. From the experiences that I have highlighted, we can see that it is not just members of the public who need to have a better understanding of autism, but those who are supporting these vulnerable children and vulnerable young adults. There needs to be a greater awareness of the consequences of not providing the right support at the right time.