What is it?
Autism is a term used to describe a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates and relates to other people and how they experience the world around them. It is not an illness or a disease and, as such, cannot be cured. It is a spectrum condition which affects people in different ways and it may include learning difficulties or mental health issues. It also encompasses conditions such as Asperger Syndrome which is characterised by a lack of learning disabilities and fewer speech problems but where there are still problems with understanding and processing language.
Getting a diagnosis of autism can be a positive thing for parents as the discussions involved in securing that diagnosis can give them a better understanding of their child's needs. It can also, in some cases, unlock access to other services and support. In Sandwell a diagnosis of autism is achieved through the Multi-Agency Assessment (MAA) Process. This process involves discussions between different professional agencies and parents as to whether a child has significant difficulties in the areas of:
- social communication (difficulty understanding what people mean)
- social interaction (difficulty understanding and interpreting the social behaviour of others)
- flexibility of thought (rigid or narrow routines, struggles with changes)
There may also be discussions around sensory processing differences but these do not currently form part of the diagnostic decision making process in Sandwell. For a diagnosis to be achieved it would need to be demonstrated that these difficulties cannot be explained in any other way.
If you are a parent of a child who is going through the assessment process or who has just had a diagnosis the charity Family Action has launched a befriending service to support families through that difficult time.
Services and Support
There are a number of organisations and services that can support you and your child whether or not you have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder:
- Autism West Midlands - provides support to families across the West Midlands including training for parents, family groups and events and groups for young people. It offers the following services in West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Smethwick and Oldbury
- Free training sessions for parents, carers and professionals
- Regular advice sessions with a family outreach worker
- A variety of workshops for parents and carers
- A family outreach service
- Support groups and a dads group which is held at head office
- A youth group which meets during school holidays
- A telephone helpline
For details of specific events and details of how to book visit the Autism West Midlands website. If you want to find out about events specifically in Sandwell enter 'Sandwell' in the keyword search. Alternatively you can email Donna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07881109525.
- Sandwell Autism Group - this is a participation forum with a focus on autism. It aspires to improve services and outcomes for autistic people and their families within Sandwell. Interested parents/carers and professionals who are involved with autism meet monthly to discuss issues. You can get involved by coming to meetings, going on the email list or liking the group's Facebook page. It can also be contacted on 07949 726 738 (number is not monitored at all times so please leave a message and your contact details and they will get back to you).
- The National Autistic Society - the national organisation providing advice and support to people with autism and their families
- The Complex Communication and Autism Team (CCAT) - provides advice and support to schools in Sandwell to help them meet the needs of pupils with autism
- Murray Hall Trust offers family support for autism in Tipton and Rowley. Call 01902 826513 or email email@example.com