MP praises project supporting autistic people

MP Cheryl Gillan has praised the support given to autistic people in Bucks under a ground-breaking project run by healthprofessionals in partnership with the County Council.

Mrs Gillan, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, spoke after hearing of the progress made in the last 18 months by support worker Paulette Hunn.

The MP, whose constituency covers Chesham & Amersham, gave a special mention to the work being carried out in Buckinghamshire, shortly before leading a debate in Parliament on the subject earlier this month.

She said: “I give a warm welcome to these and other projects. I know that my constituents are gaining benefits from the proactive approach which is helping Buckinghamshire residents. Those who are affected personally, or members of their families, are at the heart of this work, but the County Council is also making great strides in terms of raising awareness and making Buckinghamshire autism-friendly.”

The local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) commissioned an Autism Community Development role, to work in collaboration with the local authority to support Buckinghamshire residents affected by autism.

In the year-and-a-half since taking up the new role, Mrs Hunn has helped more than 90 autistic people, many of whom find it difficult to land a job.

Mrs Hunnis also helping the National Autistic Society to make Aylesbury the UK’s first ‘Autism-Friendly Town’. As part of this, the charityis working with local businesses and shops to improve their understanding of autism and the simple adjustments they can make to become more accessible to autistic people.

Mrs Hunn said: “I am very proud to be at the forefront of this work to help adults affected by autism. My job is to work with people post diagnosis and signpost these individuals to the different services that are available.

“My role is also very much about raising awareness among the community about how autism affects people, providing training to not only health and social care professionals but to community-facing services such as the police and the DWP so that they make the necessary reasonable adjustments and thereby provide an efficient service.”

She explained that many autistic people would be tremendous assets to businesses due to their reliability, honesty and attention to detail. However, some experience extreme sensory difficulties, which make themvery sensitive to smells or noises, while others have problems with social interaction.

“With reasonable adjustments, they could offer a lot to employers,” she said.

Mrs Hunn meets her clients in environments where they feel safe and secure, for instance at their local coffee shop. She also speaks to them via email or telephone.

University graduate Simon Stiel, 29, from Great Missenden, was first diagnosed with autism in December 2014, although he was suspected to have the condition since he was 13.

He is an aspiring journalist, who has been on a training course but has had no luck in finding a job despite countless applications.

Mr Stiel paid tribute to the support given by Mrs Hunn. “It certainly broadened my awareness of what help is out there.

“People like us can offer employers reliability, dedication and lateral creative thinking. I am not asking for special treatment – just to be given opportunities.”

Mike Appleyard, County Council Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “We are very grateful to Paulette for the work she is doing on behalf of us and the Clinical Commissioning Groups. It’s essential that we give this support to people with autism and encourage society to make the adjustments that will allow them to deal more easily with the day-to-day challenges they face.”

Tom Purser, Community Campaigns Manager at the National Autistic Society, said: “We are delighted to be working with Paulette and Buckinghamshire County Council to make Aylesbury the first ‘Autism Friendly Town’ in the UK.

“Being autistic means someone sees, hears and feels the world in a different, often more intense, way and can become overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells and crowds or queues in public places. This can be excruciatingly painful or cause extreme anxiety and means that some people feel they can’t go out at all.

“Paulette is helping us to make Aylesbury more accessible for autistic people by increasing understanding of autism among businesses and services in the town. A little understanding and small changes to working practices could transform the lives of autistic people, allowing them to go to shops, hairdressers and pubs work in the way others take for granted.

“A number of different businesses are already involved but we want to work with even more and help them become autism friendly too.”

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