Autism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:52 pm on 29th March 2018.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 12:52 pm, 29th March 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
notes that World Autism Awareness Week 2018 runs from 26 March to 2 April;
believes that there is a lack of understanding of the needs of autistic people and their families;
and calls on the Government to improve the support provided to autistic children in school and to autistic adults in or seeking employment, to reduce waiting times for autism diagnosis, and to promote a public awareness campaign so people can make the changes necessary for the UK to become autism-friendly.

I welcome to the Front Bench the Minister for Care, who will be responding to the debate. I gather that she chaired an autism accountability meeting on Monday, so she brings knowledge of that to the debate, and I look forward to hearing what she has to say. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate during World Autism Awareness Week itself.

I want to put on record my great pride at chairing the all-party group on autism, which is a really good cross-party group that embraces people from both sides of the Chamber. It is important that we continue this debate on a cross-party basis because, as we must remind ourselves, in each Member’s constituency we probably have approximately 1,000 autistic people. The accepted statistic is about one in 100 people. This is therefore a subject that we share between us, and one on which we can make good progress when we all work together.

I am also aware that many Members have family members who are on the autism spectrum. I wish to put on record my thanks to colleagues who have shared their own experiences, because those experiences add to the body of knowledge and to the effective way in which we can improve situations for people with autism and their families.

The fact that this is such an important issue is reflected particularly in the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information campaign, with which many of us will be familiar. Only 16% of autistic people and their family members think that the public really understand autism in any meaningful way. As a result, an alarming number of people—79% of autistic people and 70% of families—feel socially isolated. At a time when our Prime Minister has put in place a Minister for loneliness, we must not forget the isolation that can be caused for autistic people through behaviour or a lack of understanding in this area. Half of autistic people and their families sometimes do not even go out because they are worried about how people will react to autism, while 28% of autistic people have been asked to leave a public space because of behaviour associated with their autism.