New children’s campaign group formed in Yorkshire launches autism commission

A COMMISSION on autism is being launched this week by a new National Children’s Group which is being led by an MP and a charity based in Yorkshire.

Barry Sheerman MP. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Organisers say the commission will provide parents and lobbyists with a chance to push for change on issues such as the time it takes people to be diagnosed.

Around 700,000 people in the UK have autism but many people go through life undiagnosed and on average, children wait three and a half years to receive a diagnosis while adults wait two years. The Autism Commission is the first major project being carried out by the new National Children’s Group - which is being led by former Children’s Services select committee chairman and Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman along with the National Children’s Centre - a charity based in the town. The first meeting of the autism commission takes place tomorrow.

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Mr Sheerman, who is the founder of the Autism Commission said the national children’s group had been set up amid concerns that since the Department for Children Schools and Families was replaced by the Department for Education in 2010 he believed there was a lack of a policy focus on issues around children and children’s services.

One area the commission will look at is the how the provision for young people with autism changes as they move out of education until adult life.

In a statement the National Children’s Group said: “All too often, provision up until age 18 is reasonable but the transition from education to employment, from childhood to adulthood and from children’s service to adult services can be much like falling off a cliff edge.

“Only 15 per cent of adults with autism are in full-time paid employment. The National Children’s Group feel it is time for government, charities, employers and families to collaborate to change this gross inequality and have founded the Autism Commission to do just that.”

Emily Christou, the national strategy co-ordinator for the new group and commission said: “It is critical that we get the voices of those families affected by autism to those making decisions, whether that is local politicians, Government ministers or health and care commissioners.

“We need people to share their experiences so that we can channel these into a united voice to advocate for people with autism”.

She said commissioners will call for written and oral evidence, hold inquiries, produce reports and seek changes in practice and policy. The commission is also encouraging anyone with experience of autism to submit their stories and evidence. Mr Sheerman added: “This commission is a unique opportunity to pull together the key people in the world of autism and get them to begin to work in partnership to improve the lives of those affected by autism. In a time when vital services are under unprecedented pressure, we need a rigorous effort to ensure that people with autism receive a diagnosis, support and a good life”.

The commission has representatives from the National Autistic Society, Autism Alliance, Research Autism, The Royal College of GPs and the The National Autism Project.