In many ways we have come a long way since 2002. We now have an Autism Act which brought with it an autism strategy 'Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives' but despite the arrival of the Autism Act and the strategy, nothing had really changed for far too many adults with autism. The vast majority of adults who play an active part in Autism-in-Mind do not tick the right boxes or meet the criteria for services or provision.
The strategy is currently being reviewed and there have been meetings taking place all over England. There is still a long way to go before the benefits that we had hoped for when the strategy was rolled out, are felt by everyone. But we at least have a starting point and something to push for.
Enter stage left, right and centre (because autism is a cross party condition) the National Autistic Societies 'Push for Action' Campaign. Most campaigns have a decidedly national flavour but the 'Push for Action' Campaign brought the action to grass root level which is often the place where most of us spend our time campaigning.
Autism-in-Mind accepted the invitation to be partners in the 'Push for Action' Campaign. We then started lobbying within our local community. We had a great response. We asked our 3 MPs if they would meet with us and discuss how the strategy was being implemented in Sunderland and they all agreed to do just that. That really lifted out spirits. We have written to our Health and Wellbeing Board and requested a meeting with them so that we can raise the profile of autism and what would make a difference to our lives with them. Still waiting for an answer from the Board to date.
I think it is fair to say that it was NAS CEO Mark Lever who made the biggest impact on our son Matthew. Mark said that it is possible for campaigners to affect change. He went on to say that the world is ran by the people who turn up. Mark really made Matthew think and tells us that he has a much greater understanding of why we are people who turn up. He's turning up all over the place himself these days.
Jenson arrived at The Croft bright red and ready for action. He was accompanied by the NAS's Shane and Piers who have had the honour of escorting Jenson on his travels around England. Two nicer guys we have yet to meet. It was a pleasure to have you presiding over our event.
At 2pm the Croft Garden was suddenly filled with the ESPA students and adults with autism and adults and parents from Autism-in-Mind. At one point there was probably 100 people standing in the garden all waiting to 'Push for Action' Jenson did us proud. He certainly rose to the challenge and so have the autism community in Sunderland.
Having the NAS spearheading a grass roots campaign has been really good for our community as a whole. We really are all in this together and having a National Campaign travelling the length and breadth of England has helped to galvanise the people who campaign at grass root level every day.