Friday, October 8, 2010

NAS heads to Labour and Conservative party conferences

Following the success of our fringe event at the Liberal Democrat conference, the NAS has also been to the Labour and Conservative party conferences to highlight the issues people with autism and their families face to politicians from across the political spectrum.

At the 'Cocktails and Conversation' event at the Labour party conference we focused again on child mental health services and the issues raised in the You Need to Know campaign during a lively and well-attended event. Jacob Denness, a member of the NAS Young Campaigners group, spoke about his experiences of the child mental health system and school to kick the discussions off.

Diana Johnson MP, the shadow minister for health, summed up at the end and talked about the importance of the Coalition's proposals on reforming the health system, and how they will affect services, encouraging people to make sure the Government heard from people.

At the Conservative conference, we focused on the special educational needs system, in advance of the publication of the Government's new SEN Green Paper. NAS Chair Colin Barrow hosted the event, and Ralph Hemus, another Young Campaigner, talked about his views and experiences of education. He told the delegates:

"My brother is famous for having been excluded from playgroup, nursery school, primary school, secondary school and college! When he couldn’t cope his behaviour was really bad and for that he was misunderstood and labelled 'difficult'. When I couldn’t cope, I became withdrawn and for that I was 'overlooked'.

Mainstream support in schools has to be really good. Teachers must be trained and awareness raised or many of us will leave school more isolated, with mental health issues and without friends and not be able to cope and get jobs.

I think that some schools and Local Authorities stereotype pupils with autism and little flexibility is given to individual learning methods and coping strategies.

It is really important that kids with special educational needs are helped with a good education and teachers trained in the best methods of teaching us, but the emotional needs of autistic young people I think is even more important and schools must be taught about this."

Graham Stuart MP, the new chair of the parliamentary education select committee said the key point he had understood from the discussions was the importance of effective training. Charlotte Leslie MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA), talked about how important it is to get the system right for young people moving into adulthood.

All the events had excellent attendance and lively discussions, and provided an opportunity for senior party members, MPs and councillors, to hear first hand about the issues that children with autism and their families face.

We also took the opportunity to meet with lots of new and existing MPs to make sure they understand about autism and can help us with the key issues we're trying to get change on.

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