A Bristol MP has held what is thought to be the UK’s first constituency surgery specifically for people on the autism spectrum and for parents of children with autism.
Thangham Debbonaire, the Labour MP for Bristol West, met with her constituents to find out their specific needs and the barriers they face in accessing services and receiving support, in the hope of making the city more autism-friendly.
Many people brought up issues that Ms Debbonaire usually hears during her surgery. “But it was all through the prism of what it’s like for me as a person on the autism spectrum,” she tells i.
Parents are concerned for this children
“An example of something that comes up regularly anyway and came up in this surgery was access to special support for people with autism in schools. [Some parents said]: ‘Specialist support has been cut, specialist schools are too far away.’ They’re concerned for their children and want them to fill their potential at school but the lack of specific support is getting in the way of them getting the education they need.
“For the adults, [the issues that came up were] how transport might be difficult and who they wanted me to talk to. They wanted me to talk to businesses about how they could make very small adjustments in the way they run their shop or business that would make them accessible to people with autism.”
Ms Debbonaire decided to hold the surgery after raising to the National Autistic Society (NAS) a year ago that she suspected people with autism may not be attending her regular meetings.
“For all sorts of reasons, people on the autism spectrum are less likely to access my help as an MP. It might be an unfamiliar place, it may be that they don’t feel confident that I have understanding of autism,” says Ms Debbonaire.