With a report showing that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on Autistic people, North Wales MS Mark Isherwood has today called on the Welsh Government to do more to ensure they can access the services and support they need going forward.
Questioning the Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and the Welsh Language in the Welsh Parliament today, Mr Isherwood, who is Chair of the Cross Party Autism Group, called for long waits for assessment and diagnosis services, which have been exacerbated further due to Covid, to be addressed.
He also emphasized the need for the Welsh Government to honour its commitment to ensuring all teachers receive mandatory autism training, which he said is “needed now more than ever”.
“The ‘Left Stranded’ report published by the National Autistic Society and partners shows that as well as significantly exacerbating the long-established challenges that Autistic people face, the coronavirus pandemic has had a severely detrimental impact on the mental health of Autistic people and their families.
“The already long waits for assessment and diagnosis services have been exacerbated even further, with only one in four children and young people in North Wales receiving an autism assessment from local Neurodevelopment Teams within six months of their referral, and many waiting much longer - and the pandemic has laid bare the lack of understanding of Autism within our education system, also severely impacting the mental health of Autistic pupils.
“What additional help can the Welsh Government therefore give these services now to bring down these long waits and provide people with the support they need as quickly as possible - and, given the Welsh Government’s previous commitment to ensuring all teachers receive mandatory training in Autism as part of their Initial Teacher Education, which is needed now more than ever, can the Minister provide an update on plans to deliver this?”
With regards to access to services during COVID-19, the Minister replied “services are coming together to exchange good practice and support is being offered virtually, of course, whenever that is possible. The other thing that we're doing is making sure that an online assessment tool is being developed, which will meet the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence compliance guidelines”.
Addressing the teacher training in Autism needed, she said: “You'll be aware that the new training programme will include an effort to make sure that there is an understanding of the additional learning needs system. That is going to have a complete overhaul, as you're aware, and the hope is that the code and the regulations in relation to additional learning needs will be laid before the Senedd in February”.