Today my office and I met with two members of the National Autistic Society (NAS) as a part of their Understanding Autism sessions for MPs.
In the UK there are around 700,000 autistic children and adults, and a further three million family members and carers. This means that at least 1 in 100 people in Lewisham Deptford are autistic. We agree with the National Autistic Society that increasing MPs’ awareness and understanding of autism is an important step in improving their ability to support and allows us to promote the issues that matter to autistic people in Lewisham Deptford.
Isolation and loneliness are serious issues for autistic people which can result from a general lack of understanding of autism. A survey carried out by the NAS found that 79% of autistic people feel socially isolated and that 28% of families with an autistic member have been asked to leave a public place. It is therefore important to know how we can help to facilitate autistic people in public spaces, and we were given advice on what we and the general public should know. Many autistic people struggle to find and keep employment. As a result of misunderstandings around autism we learned that only 16% of autistic people are employed. The vast majority of autistic people want to be employed but many organisations do not know how to facilitate autistic people’s access to the workplace.
A lack of understanding of autism can have serious consequences for autistic women. The NAS estimate that the gender ratio of autistic people is most likely 2 to 1 men to women, but according to their estimates the diagnosis rates are 4 to 1. This is because many autistic women are able to mask their symptoms. This becomes a serious problem for autistic women as their diagnoses often happen when they reach a crisis point.
The NAS staff members advised me on how I can create autism-friendly surgeries to provide better support for autistic members of my constituency. My staff and I are looking at how we can set up surgeries which will facilitate access for autistic people.