Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

Autism support in Wales – Government sets out legal duties on public bodies 

Tim Nicholls, Head of Policy at the National Autistic Society

The Welsh Government has published a new Code of Practice on the Delivery of Autism Services, setting out the support and services that must be available to autistic people and their families in Wales. This covers services provided by local authorities, health boards and other public bodies.

The Code has the potential to strengthen the rights of autistic people, and to improve services. While it doesn’t address all the significant challenges faced by autistic people and families, it is a big step forward and comes after years of campaigning from hundreds of our supporters.

We are calling on the Welsh Government to appoint someone to oversee the implementation of the Code, and make sure it works for autistic people and their families.

What the Code says

The four main chapters in the Code outline arrangements for:

  • autism assessment and diagnosis
  • accessing health and social care services
  • awareness raising and training on autism
  • planning and monitoring services and stakeholder engagement.

Key duties contained in the Code include:

  • Clear requirements for certain professionals working with autistic people to have sufficient training. For example, those involves in diagnostic or social care assessments
  • Autism assessments must take place within agreed time scales, and post-diagnostic assessments should be offered within six weeks
  • IQ must not be considered when determining eligibility for care and support
  • No one should be denied health or care support because they do not yet have a diagnosis
  • Each regional partnership board must specifically include autism services as part of their area plans, and report against their progress
  • Each region must have an autism champion on its partnership board
  • Health boards and local authorities must collect data on autism to inform their area plans, including complying with any specific Welsh Government requirements, for example, on diagnosis waiting times.

Gaps in the Code

While the Code makes a number of positive improvements, we are concerned that it doesn’t address some significant challenges faced by autistic people and families, many of which have been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. We are disappointed that the Code doesn’t include:

  • Mandatory training in autism for teachers and other school staff, as recommended by the Senedd Health, Social Care and Sport Committee
  • Clear autism specific mental health pathways and support to understand and respond to distressed behaviour
  • Duties to improve public awareness and understanding of autism.

Government must appoint someone to oversee implementation

The success of the Code will come down to how it’s implemented and enforced by the Welsh Government. We are calling on the Welsh Government to appoint someone to oversee its implementation, support public bodies to understand their responsibilities and recommend enforcement action if they aren’t following the Code. It’s vital that autistic people and families are able to enforce their rights if they are not receiving the services or support they are entitled to.

When the Code come into force

We’re pleased that the Code has been published. It’s a long-awaited piece of regulation that could make a real difference to the lives of autistic people and their families in Wales. We will be looking out for the final guidance that will sit alongside it, and hope this comes as soon as possible, so that councils and the NHS in Wales can prepare for the Code coming into force on 1 September 2021.

 Further information

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