Autism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:48 pm on 29th March 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:48 pm, 29th March 2018

I congratulate Dame Cheryl Gillan on bringing this debate to the Floor of the House, and I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members who have made significant and wonderful contributions, including personal points of view, to this debate. World Autism Awareness Day is designed to highlight autism and, more importantly, the struggles that those who have autism go through and how we as a society can help them. We certainly are making strides towards that. The Minister will be able to highlight some of the things that we have done and, to be fair, some of the things that we still need to do.

Some local churches in my community allow local autism groups to use their facilities as a safe space to meet and have fun with the children in a controlled atmosphere. The Moviehouse chain of cinemas in Northern Ireland screens autism-friendly screenings on the first Friday of every month, making certain changes to make the experience more enjoyable for the child and their families, including having the sound and lights on low and no trailers, giving people the freedom to move around and take their own food and drink, and offering free entry for carers with a valid CEA card. Odeon cinemas also offer certain autism-friendly screenings.

I want to say a public thanks to those chains and to my own local cinema, Movieland Newtownards—now part of IMC chain since the sad passing of Ernie Watson—which has plans to begin autism-friendly screenings in my constituency. I suggest that other hon. Members have a chat with their local cinemas to see whether they will do the same. Such screenings may not make the most money—that is not what they are about—because people are allowed to bring in their own snacks for their children to eat and because there are no adverts, but they provide a service that is appreciated by families throughout the community. The life of an autistic child can be somewhat isolated, and the nature of the complex needs of the child can also mean an isolated family life for those who live with the experience every day.

Research cited by the Royal College of Psychiatrists that has been mentioned by others highlights the high levels of suicide among autistic people. Roughly 40% of autistic young people have symptoms of at least one anxiety disorder, compared with 15% in the general population. Chris Stephens, who has just left the Chamber, referred to the welfare changes, and I want to put on the record my concerns about them. Autistic children and adults are affected by changes to ESA, work capability assessments and PIP. Assessors need to be aware of what it is to have autism. With respect, if they had that ability, it would make things a lot easier.