Autism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:49 pm on 29th March 2018.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 1:49 pm, 29th March 2018

It is a great pleasure to follow Thangam Debbonaire and all my other colleagues who have spoken on this matter. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan. I am very pleased to support World Autism Awareness Week.

I have a constituency interest and a personal interest in this issue. The constituency has a large number of centres that provide support to those with autism. We also have a spectacular charity, Music for Autism. I was interested to hear the comments on the link between music and those with autism, which has been enormously helpful. I hope to come on to my personal interest in due course.

Young people and adults with autism are some of the most loyal and hardworking people I have ever come across. All they need is a chance, and that chance comes through early diagnosis. The more I have looked at this issue, the more I have become attached to the idea of one-stop shops for parents or guardians. Provision varies depending on where one is in the UK. I refer Members to the Department for Education report that covers that, by our former colleague Lee Scott.

On school exclusions, what has shocked me the most is that young people with autism face more exclusions than any other group. That is a frightening thing to take on board. It is perhaps not surprising when we have heard that some schools are excluding people when they know that Ofsted is coming—a disgraceful use of the system.

My personal interest is as an ambassador for a scheme that goes by the names of the Glyn Hopkin Foundation, the Sycamore Trust, and Space—Supporting People with Autism into Continued Employment. The charity does a lot of the work that hon. Members have been talking about the Government providing. It not only provides people who are fully ready for work; it provides advice to employers on how they should go about changing their own operations to make them autism friendly. What I have taken away from its work is a reminder that minor, easy adjustments to recruitment and the workplace can make a huge difference. I am currently trying to take a young person with autism into my office here in the House of Commons to work alongside me, initially for a few weeks on my first attempt. It is a great privilege to be involved in this area.

I will finish a little earlier for similar reasons to those given by the hon. Member for Bristol West, but I will say that the Department for Education has done great work over many years. This is not a question of funding, but attitude. It is a question of getting the attitude right in the Department to face this opportunity to make the most out of those with autism, so that they can better contribute to our society.

Teaching has been mentioned. I am very appreciative of all that has been said about the provision of training for teachers, but actually I would not blame the teachers at all on this issue. I blame a number of local education authorities. It is currently very hit and miss as to whether a local education authority is autism friendly, and can cope and provide all the support services. There are many good examples, but I will not name them now.