Significant strides have been made in helping victims of autism in Wales, says Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Social Services.
Giving an update on the implementation of key actions contained in the Autistic Spectrum Disorder Strategic Action Plan for Wales, Ms Thomas said, "It is now just over 18 months since funding first went out to local authorities to deliver the ASD Strategic Action Plan at local levels and we are still therefore in the early stages of implementing this world first 10 year all-age autism strategy.
"We have committed Â£5.4m to this project over the first three years.
"From 2007-08, the recurrent sum of Â£1.7m has continued to be available through the Revenue Support Grant to local authorities specifically to develop specialist services for children with autism.
"The Welsh Assembly Government has also funded Autism Cymru to produce three very well received information booklets for those living and working with young children with ASD: "Communication, Communication" "Learning to Play, Playing to Learn", and "Oh No! Not Big School", which contains information and ideas for transition planning for young people with ASD moving from primary to secondary school.
"These may be relatively early days but significant strides have been made.
"For the first time ever a local, regional, and national infrastructure for Autism is now in place. Locally there are 22 identified ASD leads, who are now a point of contact for families and professionals at a local level.
"We have engaged fully with stakeholders and have 22 stakeholder groups feeding into this process, plus a national stakeholder group, and as a consequence every local authority area now has a published ASD Action Plan.
"A four strong regional support team based within the Social Services Improvement agency (SSIA) has provided support and regional planning to the 22 ASD leads, resulting in a total of no less than 22 brand new autism projects starting this year.
"These projects involved local authorities working together, often in partnership with the NHS and voluntary sector, to deliver projects which directly benefit children and adults with autism.
"Let me give you a few examples:
"At least one of the 22 new autism projects started recently focuses on increasing the skills and knowledge of clinicians involved in the assessment and diagnosis of children with autism.
"Hosted by Powys, Mid and West Wales have 35 clinicians undertaking specialist training in this area.
"The SMILE charity project located in Conwy provides a social club for children with autism up to 16 years and their families.
"Across South East Wales the current ASD Emergency Card Scheme already operating with the four Police Forces throughout Wales will be expanded to involve awareness raising and training for Fire and Ambulance personnel throughout the South East Wales region.
"Within West Wales a project designed to develop access to sport, recreation and leisure provision is being established, which will develop the ASD knowledge and skills of staff in activity centres in West Wales, and will help children with ASD and their families to access this recreation provision.
"Additionally, social networking web-sites for parents of children with autism, and another for autistic children are being developed in Mid &West Wales
"These examples clearly illustrate the very practical benefits being gained for families and individuals with autism and those who work with them in the delivery of the autism strategy. We are treating these projects as pilots and where they work well, will look to see whether they can be delivered elsewhere in Wales.
"Awareness raising packages for a wide range of professional groups who work with, or come into contact with, people with autism and their families are being developed at national level.
"These materials will be widely distributed in Wales to all GP surgeries, schools and colleges, Careers Wales, Job Centre Plus, to employers and agencies comprising the Criminal Justice System, and to many other areas. I am pleased that we are on time with their development and the drafts of these materials are currently with our Standards Panel for review. I will be launching these materials in the autumn.
"Following my announcement on 22 January, there are a series of actions progressively being implemented to support adults with autism in Wales. We have committed Â£1.7m over the next three years to this work.
"We are currently working with NHS to establish an All-Wales approach to the assessment, diagnosis and post-diagnostic support for adults with autism in Wales. Our discussion with the Local Health Boards to deliver these actions is progressing well and we will be looking for implementation during this year.
"I am pleased to say that we have approved, in principle, innovative proposals arising from the North Wales and Mid and West Wales regions to establish regional community support programmes for adults with autism especially those with Asperger Syndrome, and are in ongoing discussions regarding a proposal from SE Wales.
"In addition to our awareness raising materials we have a number of funded actions which are designed to improve the employment prospects of people with autism . These include the appointment of the Wales Autism Employment Ambassador who will promote the positive aspects of employing people with autism with businesses throughout Wales.
"In two days' time I will be launching the Welsh Assembly Government's two-day conference on Adults with autism in Aberystwyth. Here we will be exploring practice issues in relation to the delivery of the action plan and have asked four charities currently working in this field in Wales to deliver presentations. There are also presentations from individuals with autism and from parents.
"In January I asked the ASD Adult Task and Finish Group to reconvene and look into five key areas affecting adults with autism and to make recommendations to me. These areas are Further and Higher Education, the impact of the Department of Works and Pensions Welfare Reforms upon adults with autism in Wales; the Criminal Justice System; Mental Health and Older persons with autism. This work is currently underway and will last for six months.
"We recognise that links between research and policy are increasingly vital to us and were pleased to play our part to support Autism Cymru in establishing a Professional Chair in Autism and additionally in developing a Wales Autism Research Centre in Cardiff University, whose formal launch will be on 23 September. These two initiatives are unique in the UK and the result is that Wales is now firmly on the international autism research map.
"We have asked Professor Leekam, Chair in Autism, to undertake an evaluation of children's autism assessment and diagnosis throughout Wales and anticipate her findings by the end of the year. Following the pioneering research project undertaken by the Universities of Bangor and Glamorgan into the needs of older people with autism, we have also asked her to formulate proposals which address the findings of this report.
"We were also delighted to form a partnership with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in a feasibility project to set up a database/register for autism across North Wales and in 18months time will be looking closely at their results.
"Communication remains key and you will by now be receiving e-bulletins updating you on the implementation progress on the autism strategy. We have also commenced delivery of a public newsletter to the 60,000 members of the autism communities in Wales.
"Finally, in Wales we have come a very long way in a very short period of time with the delivery of the autism strategy. This journey is unique in the UK and is being seen as the benchmark for other nations to follow.
"There is still much more to do but at least now we have the infrastructure, practice and momentum to build upon. An evaluation of progress on the ASD strategy to date will commence in the autumn.
We have placed people with autism and their families at the core of our strategy for autism and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the courage, commitment, enthusiasm and skill of people with autism, their families and those who support them in Wales today."