An Autism Champion is someone who has an in depth knowledge and understanding of autism. An Autism Champion would help to develop local expertise. A greater understanding of autism will improve practice in supporting people with autism and their families. That knowledge can be used to train people and to cascade training to their colleagues and improve practice in supporting people with autism.
Where would an Autism Champion work?
An Autism Champion would share their knowledge and understanding across health, social care and education. Their knowledge and understanding would be tapped into by anyone, who maybe looking for a greater understanding or who might be seeking clarity or in need of support. It's not just okay to say you need a second opinion from someone who understands, it is essential when you are working with someone or a family who is living with autism.
Do we need them here in Sunderland?
Yes we do need Autism Champions here in Sunderland. Champions are people who bring their ability to relate to people on the spectrum and share their knowledge. Shared meaning and understanding of autism can only be a good thing. Champions can be both professional or voluntary and they can bring their own life experience to transform health and well-being in their communities.
Colin is an adult with autism. He has guest written the following
Many of the problems faced by autistic people seeking support or an initial diagnosis are made worse by a lack of awareness and understanding within health and social care. Despite recent statutory guidance requiring all staff to have autism training the quality of the resources and time dedicated to this means it often has little impact. Autism is often still seen in old fashioned views, ignoring the developments aimed at increasing understanding of autism in the female population. Many doctors or other front-line staff still only think of so called ‘severe’ autism and do not recognise the diversity of the spectrum, or that the same impairment can present itself in many ways depending on the individual.
These misconceptions leave people without support, often lost in inappropriate mental health services, or frequently ending up in A&E at points of crisis. Pathways to diagnosis are blocked by ignorance, and post diagnostic support is not in place for those considered ‘high functioning’. This is both a waste of precious resources for services, and a waste of potential leading to unfulfilled lives. With commissioning devolved to CCGs it is vitally important that they understand these needs in order to develop suitable and effective services. Proper engagement is part of this solution, we know only too well the gaps in services. We have the scars to prove it when we have fallen through them. Services designed without our input will continue to ignore our needs and be a waste of resources as they are poorly targeted and contract specifications will not reflect the needs of the community locally.
We are told that Community Integrated Teams are going to bring together professionals from Health, Social Care and the voluntary sector to work together rather than overlapping and to have one key worker responsible for coordinating the care from all these sectors. As well as the benefits of better coordinated care and less waste, there is also the hope that these local teams will share expertise between professions and develop best practice. This sounds like a positive step towards change to a joined up system that wraps around the individual rather than pulling them between one direction and another. It is the same reason I have pushed for an autism specific multidisciplinary team to support people after diagnosis and continue with support whenever needed, clearly they see the benefits of joint working in other areas of health so it is a shame they don’t seem to give the same consideration to autism. However even though we don’t currently have our own service some people from the autistic community will likely be referred to this new system. Particularly if they have complex needs or receive support from many different providers. But with plans to integrate health and social care services locally there is another important piece needed to hold the structure together, Clinical Champions. Or for our sector, an Autism Champion.
With many different professionals being brought together under one roof and channels of communication opened up between services it is the perfect opportunity to have an Autism Champion. An Autism Champion would have a keen interest in autism, continue to develop their skills and expand their knowledge, but also engage with the community. They could ensure that future autism training meets the needs of the workers and the people they support. Whenever a worker in this new integrated health and social care scheme felt they were not able to understand the needs of a service user with autism they would know who to go to for advice. Not only would this benefit the end user by ensuring they get appropriate support, but it also gives the providers the confidence to identify appropriate solutions and help facilitate decisions.
Allowing staff to embrace an interest in a sector of care and become a Champion also has benefits for the CCG. There is a particular problem with retention of staff locally but this scheme could increase confidence and job satisfaction as they are able to take ownership of something they have a particular interest in. Not only do they develop their own skills, they are then shared through networks build up in these new Community Integrated Teams allowing better understanding to spread out to reach services citywide. At the same time establishing a resource and point of contact should any front-line worker feel they need further support to ensure the best outcomes.
Autism Champions are popping up around the country and the Royal College of GP’s Dr Carole Buckley recently endorsed the idea during television interviews. Maybe it is something we can get behind locally and use it to drive through the changes in services we have spent too long crying out for.