More needs to be done to make our country more autism-friendly

The difficulties that parents of autistic children face trying to obtain the right support has been highlighted significantly in recent weeks. I know having spoken to a number of constituents that this is an issue that needs addressing.

It has been reported that some children in certain areas are waiting on average two years for an autism assessment.

There was also a report produced by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism in Westminster, who have worked alongside the National Autistic Society, which found that 50% of parents waited more than a year for the right support to be put in place at school for their child.

This of course is very concerning as autism is a condition which requires an early diagnosis to enable individuals with autism and their families to be properly supported. Mental health conditions are more prevalent among people with autism than among the general population and an early diagnosis can open access to proper support and increase awareness amongst family and friends.

Education is so important and it is vital that appropriate support networks are put in place as soon as possible in schools as their requirements need to be adhered to. The National Autistic Society are launching their new #HeldBack campaign in Parliament next week. The campaign calls for a national autism and education strategy, something I very much support.

Welsh Government have recognised the importance of an early diagnosis and have set a target of 26 weeks from referral to diagnosis.

The Government has said its ambition is for people to receive a timely autism diagnosis and the Department of Health is expected to start collecting data for waiting time standards from April 2018, with a view to publishing the first results in 2019. I know that the National Autistic Society has welcomed this commitment.

There is of course still a lot to be done, especially in terms of education. I am committed to making sure our country is more autism-friendly. What is imperative is that the Government works together with schools, employers, trade unions and health professionals to improve awareness and to ensure that nobody is held back because they are autistic.