CROYDON COMMENTARY: The council has handed out a range of appointments for its four-year term, including making the recently elected Addiscombe West councillor, Jerry Fitzpatrick, the borough’s ‘Autism Champion’. Here, DAWN ASSEFA, pictured right, sends him an open letter
Dear Councillor Fitzpatrick,
As a carer of a child with autism and member of the autism community in Croydon, I would like to offer you my congratulations on your new role as Croydon “Autism Champion”.
I am writing this open letter in the hope that you will be a champion to all of us in the community, because we are not just “service users”, as we have been labelled in the past.
I will recognise the attempts you make to make a difference, the services you work with to make adaptions and reasonable adjustments, the Autism Partnership Board (although there is just one person on the spectrum actually on that board, which is shocking!) are all making a difference.
However…. “Service users” are individual human beings living in exceptional circumstances. We are often isolated.
Just recently, for example, we found after the event that the service provider for respite had lost their funding, which meant we could not attempt to oppose the decision that has meant already that some of Croydon’s carers have had to give up their employment to fulfil their carer responsibilities.
Most of us are kept in the dark. This week, I found out on social media that you are the new Autism Champion, although it seems that you may have had this role since some time in May. Some of us in the community had enquired and were not informed of this.
We are used to this. We are routinely ignored. Our correspondence isn’t always answered. Please realise, if we as individuals who are tired and worn down manage to take time out to write to you or ask a question, it is because it is really important to us.
Please read and learn the Code of Practice, and the Disability Discrimination Act, as we all have had to do just to get our families, friends and our own needs met as they are supposed to be.
Please do not ignore the parent who can’t access a diagnosis; the child and their family could be at their wits end.
Please answer the family member who is trying to get an EHCP, an Education, Health and Care Plan; it means their child’s needs are not being met at school.
Please reply to the person who is trying to access Social Care Plan; they are isolated.
Please ensure you intervene if needed with the local authority, schools and workplaces when they do not understand the law.
Please step in when a child has been illegally excluded from school or their work placement.
Please seek out and help those in our society already diagnosed and alone.
Please help create a pathway for adult diagnosis in Croydon.
There are many, many other areas in which you could be a real help to those who you now champion.
I know you must have some awareness of your new role because I noticed on one of your profiles that you have represented local authorities, parents and families, and children in public law cases in the past. Many in Croydon’s autism community often need to go to tribunal or court to get the services to which they are entitled and need.
I hope these people will be able to rely on your support.
There will be obstacles in your new role.
For example, you will find some of us vocal. We have had to learn to be, since limited resources, in some cases the minimal training of council social work professionals, and a culture that has evolved in our local authority that does not appear to be inclusive, has created an environment of friction.
You will find most of the loudest voices will be from seasoned carers, and people on the spectrum, that have been advocates, have worked with organisations for years, or are still attempting to.
Ultimately, however, carers and those on the autistic spectrum desperately want to support you.
We need a listening ear and we need a voice of a respected autism champion to be our champion more then ever.
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