Adults with autism to get better help

Plans for an overarching strategy to help Norfolk’s adults with autism have been welcomed, despite fears that there may not be funding to back it up.

Working closely with families, people with autism and charities, NHS Norfolk and Norfolk County Council are putting together a strategy to help them provide the specialist services and support that is needed.

Members of the Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee were given an update on the strategy on Thursday and heard how between January 1, and mid July of this year, 61 adults were referred to the new Asperger Service Norfolk for diagnosis. While it is difficult to know how many people have an autism spectrum disorder, it is estimated that around one in 100 people are affected, which would mean around 7,000 people in Norfolk.

Up until now, the 50pc of adults with autism who also have a learning disorder have been able to access support and help through learning difficulty services.

However, the 50pc who do not have a learning disability have been much more likely to miss out on services and this is something the strategy is hoping to address.

Stephen McCormack, commissioning manager for NHS Norfolk’s mental health and learning disabilities, said because until recently little was known about the wider austism spectrum disorders, existing services had grown organically and mainly from when families had requested or protested about help.

Steve Bloomfield, head of adult services at Norwich-based charity Asperger East Anglia, said he felt there was a big need to educate employers about autistic spectrum disorders. He added: “The issue is a huge number of people aren’t diag-nosed and possibly have no knowledge that an autistic spectrum disorder is what is affecting their lives and it’s only when something goes wrong that we are called in to help.”

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Committee member Shirley Weymouth, Great Yarmouth Borough Councillor for East Flegg, said she was concerned that in the current climate of funding cuts it could be difficult to provide services, particularly as many were currently provided by the voluntary sector.

Committee chairman Michael Cartiss welcomed the plans for a strategy but added: “I think we all recognise that we still have a long journey ahead.”

The government is due to publish statutory guidance on services for adults with autism at the end of this year, which will come into effect in January, 2011.