The number of children in Welsh schools with a major special educational need (SEN) of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has increased by over 50 per cent in five years (2011-16).
Official figures show there were 3,450 pupils with ASD in 2011 and 5,325 in 2016.
The largest increase is in primary schools where numbers have grown by almost 60 per cent from 1,290 to 2,055. Meleri Thomas of National Autistic Society (NAS) Cymru told the BBC she believed the increase was largely due to a better understanding of autism and improvements in diagnostic services.
Four in every five parents who responded to an NAS Cymru survey said their child received additional support at school because of their autism through school action, school action plus or a statement. However, only two children in five whose parents responded said they were receiving all the support and provisions outlined in their statement or education plan.
Statistics for pupils with SEN in maintained schools in Wales in January 2016 show that one in four of those with a statement — 3,095 of 12,435 — had ASD as their major need. During Autism Awareness Week (27 March–2 April 2017) the Welsh Government announced an additional £7 million funding for its innovative Integrated Autism Service (IAS), which is due to launch in June 2017.
The IAS was announced in 2016 as a three-year project with funding of £6 million. The additional funding sees the service extended until 2021.
The IAS aims to:
- Bring together existing children’s autistic spectrum disorder neurodevelopmental teams within health boards to provide diagnostic, assessment and specialist interventions (therapies) for children with ASD.
- Develop new specialist adult teams, which will offer diagnostic provision.
- Develop new community support teams in health board areas, providing behavioural advice, low-level support, access to community services, support programmes and sign-posting. This service will also provide training for parents and carers across the age range.
- Build on existing services by developing professional capacity and enhancing skills, to improve diagnostic assessment and post-diagnostic support.
Announcing the extra funding Minister for Social Service and Public Health, Rebecca Evans, said:
Wales has long been a leader in providing support for people with autism and their families, publishing our first action plan back in 2008. The National Integrated Autism Service is another important step forward. It will help ensure people receive consistent services and get the right support, at the right time, wherever they live in Wales.
The additional funding I have announced today, at the start of National Autism Week, demonstrates our continued commitment to improving autism services. I am confident that the four year funding will enable regions to deliver sustainable support to families.
The funding will also help deliver the Welsh Government’s ASD Strategic Action Plan. This includes a commitment to developing improved autism resources, such as ‘Can you see me?’ — a new scheme developed by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) that is currently being rolled out.
The initiative promotes understanding and acceptance of autism within communities in Wales. It was launched with a video showing support from sporting stars from Wales’ national football and rugby squads.
Leaflets and posters for outlets such as shops, banks, hairdressers and cinemas as well as dentists and GPs have been created to support interactions with people with autism. People with autism can also choose whether they would like to make others aware of their autism by wearing a wristband or showing a card (which is also be available for mobile phones).
Steve Thomas CBE, Chief Executive of the WLGA, said:
This scheme, which has been led by the National ASD Development Team within the WLGA, will be a significant step in terms of recognising the needs of individuals with ASD across communities in Wales. I am delighted that local authorities will take this forward and play a key role in promoting it. The WLGA warmly welcome the extra funding that has been announced by the Minister, which will help us deepen our work with individuals with ASD, their family and carers, and professionals working with children and adults with ASD.