Okay, so we all have an election coming up, in just a few weeks. I’m sure everyone has received the letters through the door, from all manner of candidates, asking you to vote for them, some of you may even have had them at your door. Our local politicians want our votes.
I thought I’d talk about the local candidates positions on Autism Support, and what they have done for Autism, and what they and their parties plan to do, if elected in the upcoming election. I will make clear at this point, for the purposes of this post, I will only be talking about politicians that I have met/interacted with in the last 12 months, what they have said, and my interpretation of their words. So, in no particular order, I have been in touch with the following;
Stewart Dickson (Alliance Party, East Antrim)
Gary Middleton (DUP, Foyle)
Stephen Ross (DUP, East Antrim)
Steven Agnew (Green Party, North Down)
Paula Bradshaw (Alliance Party, South Belfast)
Robbie Butler (UUP, Lagan Valley)
Doug Beattie (UUP, Upper Bann)
Pam Cameron (DUP, South Antrim)
Cathal Boylan (Sinn Fein, Newry/Armagh)
Working my way down the list;
I met with Stewart in his constituency office a few weeks ago. We discussed the issues around Autism support, in particular, the huge waiting times for Adult support services, and how the support network in general is just not working. I also brought up things such as the transition service (from education to employment/higher education), and explained the dangers of the transition service not being adequate to support those making the transition through school and onto their chosen path. He was surprised at the state of the system, and pledged to do his part in fighting for increased support for adult services, and also for increased awareness of the condition in General.
I met with Gary (who was the deputy chair of the All-party Group on Autism at the time) before Christmas at his office in Stormont. I discussed with him the problems on support services just not being there for Autistic Adults. In particular, I focused upon the problems of finding suitable employment, and how various agencies could assist with supporting Autistic Adults in their search for employment, and also how to make things in general more accessible and comfortable for Autistic People. Gary also raised the possibility of myself giving a presentation to the All-Party group, if it was something the rest of the members agreed upon. I was happy with the idea, as to my knowledge, the committee has never had an Autistic person give a presentation to the Committee before.
I met with Stephen to discuss Autism issues in general, specifically, the lack of support for both children and adults. As a father with children on the Spectrum, Stephen understood first hand the frustrations and failings of the system, having experienced many of them personally. He agreed that the current system simply isn’t good enough, and also that many politicians don’t seem to be aware of the true nature of the condition, and it would be a benefit having our politicians engage with Autistic adults in order to work together to improve the System. Stephen has actually worked with local support groups and produced a report on Autism for the Newtownabbey area, with went into detail about the specific problems faced by Autistic Children and Adults alike.
I met with Steven before Christmas in his Stormont office. As a member of the All-party group on Autism, I wanted to discuss with him issues surrounding Autistic Adults and a lack of support available. The general theme was very similar to the meeting I had with Gary Middleton, and again a discussion was had about a possible presentation to the All-Party Group.
I emailed Paula Bradshaw about the experiences of Autistic Adults, such as myself, in trying to access support services, and also the waiting list issue with regards being seen by an Intervention team. Paula replied with a lengthy email, expressing her disappointment as the support services available, and a promise to try and improve support services if she has the opportunity to do so.
I messaged Robbie during a health Committee meeting (the last one before the Assembly dissolved) , as they were questioning departmental officials about the Autism strategy. He was able to ask a question I sent him, which was last second, let alone last minute, about the support services available to adults. The answer he received I think quite surprised him when it became obvious that the official was unable to answer a seemingly easy question.
After reading this blog, Doug sent me a message to tell me that he had been surprised at the lack of support services available, and was also disappointed that this issue has seemingly been ignored by the powers that be. He also agreed to a meeting at some point in the future, in order to discuss the issues in depth, and to get a greater understanding of the situation. He also made a point of stating that, if there was a meeting, he wouldn’t necessarily want it to be made public, as he did not want to give off the perception of using it a publicity stunt/electioneering move.
This one is a little odd. I emailed Pam, before Christmas about the issues surrounding employment opportunities for Autistic Adults (The National Autistic Society had launched a campaign that I featured in, that was to bring attention to the shockingly low levels of employment for Autistic people), and I received a reply, thanking me for my email and wishing to meet with me to discuss the issue further. Then, about 30 minutes after I received the initial reply, I got a second email attempting to recall the initial one (In basic terms, attempting to recall in email is the equivalent of sticking your arm in the post box after you post a letter to try and stop it being sent). Expecting a third email to explain what was going, I waited for it, but it never came. This left somewhat of a sour taste in the mouth, as my email had clearly been read, and taken note of, but for some reason, the reply was rescinded, as was the offer of a meeting, for whatever reason. To this day I haven’t received an explanation as to the whole kerfuffle.
Again, I emailed Cathal off the back of the NAS campaign, and he emailed back to thank me for getting in touch, and to raise the possibility of a meeting. Unfortunately due to scheduling issues, this meeting has yet to take place, but I received a further email a few days ago restating the intention to set up a meeting, so hopefully that will happen sometime in the future.
That’s about it then, my own experiences of our local politicians, and my own experiences of them when it comes to Autism issues.
One thing I will say. The numbers of emails I have sent to various MLA’s and MP’s about Autism is a lot higher than the replies I receive. For example, I emailed every member of the All-Party Group on Autism with the NAS Campaign, and I wrote each of them a personal email. Of the 14 or so on the committee, I got 4 replies, one of which was later recalled (does that make it 3?) That quite disappointed me. I’m not expecting every politician I email to drop everything and reply and set up a meeting immediately, bur even an acknowledgement of the email would be nice.
So, anyway, until next time,
Thanks for reading my Autistic Insight,