Tuesday, 31 July 2012

NAS campaigners help create more opportunities and support for people with autism to find sustainable work

Since launching the Undiscovered Workforce campaign in  March, a number of Ambassadors and Champions have successfully worked with their MPs to run local events to raise awareness and increase number of people with autism in employment. 
The cooperation between passionate campaigners, interested local MPs, local authorities, charities, Jobcentre Plus and crucially, major employers is at the very heart of this campaign.
What's happened so far
In Leeds our ambassador Penny has joined forces with her local MP Rachel Reeves.  A combination of Penny's enthusiasm and Rachel's political leadership mean that the Council is taking notice.  There is an employment sub-group of the autism partnership board and a big one-day conference is being held next year to bring together big local companies, Jobcentre Plus and people with autism looking who need support to thrive at work. 
In Derbyshire, another of our dedicated Ambassadors, Ann, has engaged her local MP Heather Wheeler. They have got together to engage with the local Chamber of Commerce and leading employers based in the area.  Ann is also working closely with her local authority, which is planning to employ someone with autism in the next few months.
In Suffolk, activities were spearheaded with the support of Waveney MP Peter Aldous, who spoke at a local Jobcentre Plus event, along with the NAS, the National Apprenticeship Service, and Lowescroft College.  Suffolk County Council now has funding to hold employment events in the county in partnership with the NAS. 
Have you contacted your local MP about the Undiscovered Workforce? Would you like to help create more opportunities and support for people with autism to find sustainable work?   Take action here http://www.autism.org.uk/undiscoveredworkforce

Maz's 1,000 mile mission to make football accessible for children with autism

NAS ambassador, Maz Ataie battled against the clock last weekend on an attempt to visit all 20 Premier League football stadiums – in just 36 waking hours.  

Maz embarked on his 1,000 mile mission to raise awareness of the difficulties that children with autism can face getting involved in grassroots football. He was inspired by his eight-year-old son Jake who has Asperger syndrome, and loves football.  

Joined by friends Ed Jones (34), Dave Leeks (34), and Chris Patson (38), Maz kicked off his sporting challenge at 8am on Friday morning at Loftus Road, home of QPR FC. After visiting three other London clubs, the team headed over to Swansea before racing off to the Midlands and the North East, ending the first day of the tour at St James’ Park in Newcastle.  

An early start on Saturday saw a visit to clubs in the North West, including visits to Old Trafford and Anfield. Throughout the tour, clubs donated items that Maz will auction off later this year for the NAS. Items that will be up for auction include a Manchester United shirt signed by England star Wayne Rooney and a football signed by the Chelsea team.  

Maz and his friends smashed their target by three hours, ending their tour at Tottenham Hotspur’s ground White Hart Lane, where they had a well-deserved VIP tour of the stadium.

Maz will be writing a blog story very soon with more details about how he got on!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Undiscovered Workforce campaign gathers pace

We've had loads of interest from ambassadors and champions in our Undiscovered Workforce campaign on employment. The campaign asks MPs to take the lead in creating employment opportunities for their constituents with autism, by bringing together local employers, people with autism, the local authority and other services in the community. The aim is to raise awareness of the difficulties facing people with autism who are looking for work and to ensure there is specialist support available for employers, as well as employees, to help people with autism succeed in the workplace.

Helen Kelly, an Ambassador from Tyne and Wear, supports the campaign because she is concerned for her 12-year-old daughter who has autism. "Her future worries me", she says, "She will be trying to get a job and I think her autism will be a disadvantage. There needs to be more awareness of the condition out there and people with autism should have the right to the proper support in a job".

Although she admits she was a little nervous at first, Helen wrote to her MP on the issue - the first time she had ever contacted him. However, her feelings soon changed when she realised she'd been sent a standard letter: "To be honest, I was a bit annoyed to get a generic email in reply. This is a serious thing - you can't just send a generic response".

Helen contacted the NAS with her MP's reply and we gave her a special response letter we've written for Ambassadors and Champions to send when they're not satisfied with their MP's response to the Undiscovered Workforce campaign.

Now Helen's looking to the next steps in her campaigning: "I would like to meet my MP and put my case forward. This is a real issue, not only for people who are in the workplace now but also for those people with autism who will be working in the future. There are thousands of people in this situation, and the have the right to work like everybody else"

If you want to support the Undiscovered Workforce campaign you can send a letter to your MP through our website here: www.autism.org.uk/undiscoveredworkforce. If you've already sent an initial email and haven't received a reply or aren't satisfied with the response you have received, don't be afraid to politely challenge them on it. Or if your MP asks you how they can help, make sure you take them up on their offer. Get in touch us at aan@nas.org.uk and we'll give you advice on what to do next. 

There are loads of great things going on with the Undiscovered Workforce campaign around the country - we've had MPs writing to local businesses, organising breakfast events and pushing Local Authorities to set up supported employment services - don't let your area miss out!

Ralph on the SEARCH for employment

Ralph Hemus, campaigning for the National Autistic Society, recently hosted a superb radio feature on FromeFM “Our Vision, Our Future” to promote an exciting programme to help young people with learning disabilities find paid jobs in his local area.

Project SEARCH, operating through Bath and North East Somerset Council, combines classroom teaching with practical work experience within the council including schools and partner organisations.

It is a training program for special needs students who have completed their academic requirements but would benefit from a workforce development program that includes employability skills and internships in a local but large business.

Ralph recently gained the job of Admin Officer at the council after his year on Project SEARCH. On his radio show, he introduces teachers and job coaches to talk about the programme, including his own coach Pauline, who spoke of the importance of letting young people with learning disabilities know that “work can be a positive experience”. Ralph also discusses his own experience as an intern, describing the benefits of reduced anxiety and gaining a better idea of what he wants to do through taking part in supported placements. Ralph's show also includes interviews with his fellow students, including 19 year old Chloe, who like Ralph has successfully got a paid job. “I think Project SEARCH helped me out a lot by giving me confidence”, Chloe said of the project, adding that she had not travelled on her own until taking part in Project SEARCH, and that her favourite thing about her new job as a receptionist was the opportunity to meet people.

Gaining paid employment was the unanimous wish of the young people interviewed, and many also emphasised that they wanted to live independently. Described by one of its coaches as “a mixture of fun and hard work”, Project SEARCH aims to make this possible by incorporating job skills and personal independence training with internship experience in a variety of fields, including administrative and clerical work, catering, maintenance support, customer service, and care work with children or the elderly. In order to support the specific needs of young people on the programme, students can access their job instructions in the form of tick lists, prompt cards or photographs as their needs require, and the work experience is supplemented by practical skills coaching.

It was not only the young people who reported good experiences in their involvement with Project SEARCH. Ralph has also worked to promote Project SEARCH to local employers, interviewing employer participants across businesses and services who described the interns as assets to their workplace. Heather Thomas at Keynsham Health Centre encouraged other local and national businesses to offer placements, explaining how helpful the Health Centre’s intern had been at carrying out administrative tasks during a particularly busy time. The Deputy Headteacher at Castle Primary School also spoke warmly of watching interns “really grow in confidence” and emphasised that to employers like her, “the benefits far outweigh any organisation that has to be done”.

Ralph’s guests closed the feature by thanking him for his hard work promoting a scheme that has not only benefited him but has encouraged many other young people and employers. The feature identified ongoing challenges, such as the high rate of unemployment amongst young and especially young disabled people, the lack of infrastructure in some areas making it difficult for interns to get to work and the challenge of changing employer attitudes. Despite these challenges, Ralph and the interns and staff at Project SEARCH have demonstrated that given the right support, young people with autism and / or learning disabilities can truly thrive in employment, bringing great benefit both to themselves and to their communities.

To listen to Ralph’s fantastic radio show online, go to http://www.fromefm.co.uk/ and look for ‘Ralph’s Finest Hour – 2nd June 2012.

For more information on the National Autistic Society’s Undiscovered Workforce campaign, follow this link.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Getting People to Listen

I have had lots of problems with my NHS mental health trust whose social workers are on secondment from my local LA (local authority/council) and have made a good link with my purchasing manager (he is the person in charge of what gets bought).  There are two main types of purchases bulk - one which is used for some providers who have many service users who access them for varying amount of time and spot purchases that are one off or single service users’ purchases.

A social worker contacted me to arrange my review of my support. I asked her after it was clear she knew nothing about autism if she had been trained in the Autism Act 2009. As she hadn’t, I explained it was law,  and the following week I met her face to face and I asked her if she had read up on it, explaining that it is an act and therefore law.

I explained that you can’t represent someone at the panel (a meeting to decide how support funds are allocated) if you don’t understand autism because it means you can’t understand my needs. I then submitted a complaint.

The purchasing manager then e-mailed the head of training and copy and pasted from the statutory guidelines the duty that the NHS LA and foundation trusts have for training. Here it is:-

• Local authorities, NHS bodies and NHS Foundation Trusts should seek ways to make autism awareness training available to all staff working in health and social care. In line with the principles set out in Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives, as a minimum autism awareness training should be included within general equality and diversity training programmes.

• The core aims of this training are that staff are able to identify potential signs of autism and understand how to make reasonable adjustments in their behaviour, communication and services for people who have a diagnosis of autism or who display these characteristics.

• Those staff who are most likely to have contact with adults with autism are the priority groups for training.

• In addition to general autism awareness training for staff, local areas should develop or provide specialist training for those in key roles that have a direct impact on access to services for adults with autism – such as GP or community care assessors – and those whose career pathways focus on working with adults with autism, such as personal assistants, occupational therapists or residential care workers.

The end goal of this specialist training is that, within each area, there are some staff who have clear expertise in autism.

The result of my complaint is that social workers have now signed up for the training available in the borough and after this email from the purchasing manager hopefully more training will be provided.

By Robyn S

Monday, 16 July 2012

"Being good at SEN must be seen as part of what makes an excellent school, not just an optional extra" says NAS Ambassador Andrew

As part of my work as an Ambassador for the National Autistic Society, I was invited to be a representative on the Labour Party’s policy review committee on Special Educational Needs. As I’m sure many of you know, the Government published a Green Paper and Next Steps document on SEN reform, outlining what they are planning to do to reform the provision of SEN in England. The two most important parts of this reform are the combination of different forms of assessment in education; health and social care for children with special educational needs into a single assessment, and the allocation to each child with SEN a personal budget which they can use to purchase services in health, social care and education to support their child. The original green paper included a commitment to “removing the bias towards inclusion”, but this appears to have been dropped from the next steps document.

As one of the most significant reforms to SEN in the past 25 years, the proposals have understandably raised concerns among families living with SEN. Many have questioned whether personal budgets are suitable as a means of providing support to children with special needs, and how this will fit with the existing system. As well as this, many thought that the single assessment might lead to a lack of proper assistance for those who did not meet the criteria. Finally, there are concerns about how the plan for a single assessment and personal budget will fit together with the government’s plans to give more autonomy to academies and free schools.

The Labour Party policy review hoped to do two things, firstly, to help provide the Labour Party with a response to the Green Paper. Debate is critical in any democracy, and we hoped that through conducting a review with the input of experts in the education and disability sectors, as well as the parents and carers of disabled people (and some disabled people themselves), we could provide a robust contribution to the public discussion on SEN. The second aim was to form the basis for the Labour Party’s manifesto for the next General election, meaning that ultimately what we decided, in consultation with others, could become policy and improve the lives of thousands of children with SEN.

My role was to provide some input into the review from the perspective of someone with Asperger syndrome who has been through mainstream education. I can’t claim to speak for the experiences of all people with autism, but my own life experience is something which I tried to bring to bear in my role as a panel member. I felt relatively inexperienced as 22 year old asking questions to people who’ve spent the best part of their professional lives helping disabled children, along with those families who deal with it every day of their lives, but I hope I've done something positive for those with SEN.

There were four sessions of the policy review: an outline of the Green Paper, teacher training and specialist professionals, identification and provision, and accountability and local authorities. Among the many contributors, there seemed to be a general consensus. All schools should have teachers who are trained to identify and support those with an SEN, and this must form a much greater part of teacher training than it does currently.

Being good at SEN must be seen as part of what makes an excellent school, not just an optional extra. Parents should have a legal right to have their children’s needs (as identified in the single assessment) met. Finally, local authorities should be examined to make sure they are meeting the needs of children with SEN, with sanctions for those who are not.

I was able to have the opportunity to participate in the policy review through the help of the NAS. Having worked with them before, I was keen to sign up as an Autism Ambassador to continue working with them to promote the rights of autistic people and their families to live a life free from discrimination and to have the best possible opportunities to things which many people take for granted.

By Andrew Rhodes

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Autism Summit in West Sussex discusses upcoming SEN reforms

Hello everyone, just thought I'd give a quick update in how things went at the Autism Summit last week...after considerable pre-match nerves from me, I'm really happy to say that the event went extremely well, I even managed to get my little speech out, David Cameron style (technique not content!), in full and to a room of confidence boosting nodding heads. A decent number of people showed up and I was impressed by the representation from West Sussex County Council and the NHS.

Nick Herbert, my MP, was a genuinely committed and interested Chair and I got a real sense that this was something which he has taken very much to heart. I was first up and that gave me the opportunity to set out some of the main issues raised by the Green Paper, which I think our local agencies could develop to create a better picture for the provision of local services for people whose lives are affected by autism.

I raised the need for a single, comprehensive directory of local autism specific services, something that could easily become part of the local offer, the need for autism specific training across the board - to include not just school, teaching staff and SENCO's, but health visitors, social workers, child minders, LA staff - to become mandatory, and a recommendation that local services must be available to all children and young people with a diagnosis and not just those with statements or EHCP's.

One of my big concerns is that, as the new single assessment tool is developed, it will start to operate in a way which means that children on the 'high functioning' end of the spectrum will fall outside it's criteria. There is evidence from the Pathfinder Group here in Mid Sussex which shows that this is already happening and I am very concerned that these children will in the future fall outside the systems which exit to give them the vital support and intervention they need. The Government is clear that it wants to reduce the numbers of children with SEN and this ideological goal appears, for the moment at least, to be finding it's practical application in the new single assessment for an EHCP.

I was also very keen to stress that families must be a key part of any development of new strategies and local services. Summits like this one are great, but the views of children and young people and their families need to be heard regularly, and actually then used to shape policy going forward. It was encouraging therefore to hear how Katie Glover, (Principal Commissioning Manager Learning Difficulties WSCC) is developing the West Sussex Autism Strategy in very close partnership with local families - she remarked that the (at best, unimaginatively, named) 'Vulnerable Adult Group', which attempts to draw together services and support for adults, families, careers, would not exist had it not been for the input of local families.

It remains unclear whether something like this will happen for children, the local offer seems a good opportunity to do so and John Philpot (Principal Manager, Special Needs & Disability, Children’s Services WSCC) certainly seemed very keen to foster closer family/council connections. This is definitely something I will be following up. This also clearly leaves the possibility of a join up between child and adult services hanging in the balance...'Vulnerable Child and Adult Group' anybody?....

We heard a lot from the various council agencies about what work they are doing now or plan for the future and as the session went on, the sheer vastness and disjointedness of this patchwork of disparate agencies purporting to provide 'autism' services became for me the real stand out issue. One mother who gave frankly, harrowing testimony of her struggle to find support for her 15 year old son, stood up at one point and said, "all these services, all this support...I had no idea it was there". Clearly work needs to be done to create a joined up 'directory of services' or 'portal', which not just well informed and autism specific, but accessible and well signposted.

I'm going to let the dust settle for a couple of weeks - I think local agencies always expect to get a bit of a hammering (and they did in part!) and I'm much more of a carrot than stick kind of a person - and then get back on to the council.

The summit also heard from Richard Brown of Autism Sussex - a local charity making direct, grass roots interventions - who suggested an autism partnership board, comprising families and the council. I think this is a good strategy, and I intend to chat with him about how we can progress his idea. I want to be positive and practical, little by little I think we have a real chance to make positive change.

At the summit we started a relationship and I hope it will be productive. Here's a link to some local press coverage and a nice little pic of Nick and his 'autism' parents:- http://www.spiritfm.net/news/sussex-news/710738/parents-call-for-better-autism-care-in-west-sussex/

By Victoria T