People should never be defined by their conditions or circumstances, but by their needs and aspirations. The National Adult Autism Strategy, which debuted in 2010, is the embodiment of this ethos, built on the experiences and recommendations of adults living with autism, their families and carers. It’s a familiar approach for social workers and informs our work with individuals and families as we collaborate on holistic decision making for happier, healthier lives.
Awareness of the issues affecting adults with autism continues to grow, so it stands to reason their interactions with social workers are also increasing. Think Autism’s latest progress report references our profession several times and signposts the continuous professional development (CPD) framework for supporting adults with autism published last year – and which sits alongside companion frameworks for mental capacity and dementia.
It also notes our valuable role within multi-disciplinary teams across various health, care and community settings. Indeed, the report includes a great case study from Rainbow Autism, a Worcestershire based social enterprise founded by Mandy Shrimpton, a specialist social worker and mother to a daughter with Asperger’s. She explains the value of the service she and her colleagues provide:
Over our five years of business we have identified the need for a menu of support and services, collaboration between different disciplines and multi-agency working. As a result we have developed a ‘spectrum hub’ model that provides the basis for a variety of support and services and gives us the flexibility to meet the fluctuating and complex needs of those with autism.
Rainbow Autism’s focus on assessment, advocacy and support for those on the spectrum is a fantastic demonstration of social work’s values and effectiveness. Mandy and her colleagues have married life experience with professional skills and insight to help people access and make the most of available services. It’s a great model, further boosted by well-deserved monies from the Autism Innovation Fund and one I would love to see replicated across the country.
It’s a reminder of why the creation and publication last year of the Knowledge and Skills Statement (KSS) for adult social work was so important. It seeks to equip social workers with the tools they need to best serve the interests of individuals and families, including those with autism.
Having an informed awareness of a person’s autism is critical during any assessment process and social workers – indeed all health and care professionals - must be attuned to the impact care and support decisions have on individuals, their family or carers. Whatever we do, our end goal is always to promote independence.
We still have a part to play in helping to speed and broaden positive change for those living with autism. Whilst the report acknowledges advances in training and awareness amongst front line staff including teachers, nurses and other professional health and care groups, provision remains uneven across the country.
More can - and must - be done to facilitate earlier identification and interventions for those with autism. I believe now, more than ever, is the time to show why our presence in multi-disciplinary teams makes a difference. People with autism want to study, work, raise families – in short lead lives as happily and productively as any of us. Who better to help identify and support these aspirations than social workers with their unique, person-centred perspectives?
I believe social workers are often best placed to understand and adapt ways of working to accommodate the complexities and challenges life with autism presents. For me, this latest report reinforces that view - and if we can help tip the balance from lives unfulfilled to ones filled with achievement and opportunity, then we’ve really done our job.