Almost everyone has heard of autism. But not many people understand what it’s actually like to be autistic, including the strengths you can have and how challenging life can be at times.

Some autistic people are able to learn, live and work independently, while many have learning difficulties or co-occurring health conditions that require specialist support from our teams.

It can be diagnosed at any age and affects children and adults. Here are some common signs of the condition:

  • delayed or absent speech
  • difficulty with listening, concentrating and understanding
  • frequent repetition of words and phrases
  • taking things literally
  • difficulty sensing and interpreting people’s feelings
  • difficulty expressing feelings
  • over or under sensitivity to sound, touch, taste, smell or light
  • rituals or repetitive behaviours
  • disliking changes to routine
  • difficulty making friends and socialising

Here at LSCft our raft of all age specialist autism services, including community outreach, dental and forensic teams understand that, enabling us to deliver bespoke, person centred care, often with life enhancing results.

None more so than in former perinatal service user Gabby Hamilton’s case. She was was only 19 and just six weeks away from losing custody of her baby when joint working between our specialist services kept mother and baby together, helping to build and protect the mother-infant relationship.

The advocacy and intervention of our Autism Outreach Team in Gabby’s story should be truly celebrated. Two years on, thanks to our specialist autism team, Gabby now has a care package and lives independently in the community caring for her happy toddler, two-year-old Violet.

Gabby is neuro-diverse and is still awaiting an autism diagnosis; it’s not unusual for women to ‘mask’ symptoms and to be diagnosed later in life.

She was being cared for by our Specialist Perinatal Community Mental Health Team (SPCMHT) and was referred to Perinatal Occupational Therapist Steph Glover when Violet was just six months old.

At the time Gabby was experiencing low mood, anxiety, thoughts of self-harm and was really struggling to adapt to motherhood.

When she arrived in the care of our perinatal teams, Gabby had been given a short term deadline to meet targets relating to caring for her baby on her own, when in reality, she was close to losing her baby.

Our teams noticed quickly that the targets set hadn’t considered Gabby’s neuro-diverse presentation or any alternative approaches to help her achieve her outcomes.

Steph said:

“When she came to our specialist perinatal community mental health service, Gabby had been living in a residential mother and baby home with staff on hand 24 hours a day. The environment was a total sensory overload for her.”

Thanks to the support of our Autism Outreach Team working with Perinatal Occupational Therapist Steph, it was promptly highlighted and support was given to both Gabby and to partner agencies in order to provide alternative and more accessible support to protect the mother-infant relationship and to allow it to flourish.

Gabby, who is now 21, said:

“Staff communicated with me in a way that I could understand and I felt truly listened to and I didn’t feel judged.

The team and Steph helped me get the right support and in the early days they helped me bond with my baby.

They got me home with a care pakage and kept me with Violet.

Before that, when she was tiny, I lost the sense of who I was, the environment wasn’t great and they talked to me in ways I couldn’t understand. It left me angry and confused in the early days.”

Today, Gabby’s daughter Violet is a happy, bouncy and chatty toddler living at home with her mummy and they are no longer monitored by children’s social services.

Gabby added:

“We have such a strong bond now, my mothering instinct has well and truly kicked in at home with my care plan and Violet and I really love each other."

How else do we help those with autism?

Our specialist autism services at LSCft include:

  • Autism Outreach team – They do assessments and deliver support and signposting to autistic people, as well as working alongside the individual’s Home Treatment Team and other professionals to support understanding and reasonable adjustments. In October, they won an award for community care at the Health Service Journal (HSJ) Awards for its work advocating for people with autism.
  • Children’s Key Working Service – Working with children and young people with a learning disability, autism or both, as well as inpatients or at risk of being admitted to hospital or placement breakdown, ensuring children and families get the right support at the right time and local systems are responsive to meeting their needs in a holistic and joined up way.
  • Lancashire and South Cumbria Children’s Autism Intensive Support Service –Supporting autistic children from aged four to 18 who are in crisis, providing a holistic, personalised assessment to understand the child and family’s needs, offering a personalised and flexible approach through a variety of support and interventions.
  • Forensic Autism Service - Giving person-centred care to adults with autism and a forensic risk, working with prisons and the probation service, offering support in the community with care plans and reasonable adjustments.

What does the future hold?

The Trust has worked closely with local NHS system commissioners and the NICHE Consultancy to review autism assessment pathways and support services across Lancashire and South Cumbria.

This review will provide commissioners with clear recommendations around what needs to be commissioned across the area to provide high quality and timely assessment and support for people with autism and awaiting diagnosis.

In addition, new guidance around autism assessment standards is expected from NHS England soon. We will benchmark existing services against this to help drive the continuous improvement of our services for people throughout the next year.

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