A TEENAGER from York shared her experiences of growing up with autism at the city’s first conference on the condition which touches the lives of hundreds of city children and their families.

Archbishop Holgate’s CE School student Kate Calvert, from Strensall, was diagnosed with autism aged two-and-a-half and was one of the main speakers at the launch of City of York Council’s autism strategy at a conference at Askham Bryan College yesterday.

The 18-year-old described the condition as “like gravity pulling me back from what I’d rather be doing” and said she had no nerves before going on stage, but admitted she had been up early rehearsing her speech.

She said: “I am here to give the conference an idea of autism from a young person’s perspective. People with autism often find it hard socialising and learn things differently than other people. I think there is still discrimination and problems with bullying and that’s why it is important to have this conference.”

Jessica Haslam, head of integrated services for disabled children at York council, said York has about 200 children and young people, aged from three to 19, who have been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum.

Mrs Haslam said the council was ahead of the pack in creating a youth autism strategy which was formed in consultation with parents, social care and voluntary organisations looking ahead to the next three years.

Parent Fiona Hick, 39, of Dringhouses, whose 11-year-old son, Evan, is at Fulford School and has Asperger’s Syndrome, also spoke at the conference about the transition into secondary school.

Mrs Hick said: “We have gone from a very difficult place before Evan was diagnosed when he was eight to a fantastic place now. The provision at Fulford School is first rate and we have had a really positive experience of the transition process.”

Coun Janet Looker, the council’s cabinet member for education, said: “We need to look at ways of supporting these youngsters.

“We don’t want to put everyone with the condition in to a special school because that’s expensive and not necessarily what parents want so its about finding a way of supporting parents and youngsters in the mainstream community.”

A strategy for children

The York Autism Strategy for children and young people will outline what the council is planning over the next three years and includes:

• Existing services for children and young people with autism

• Developing education, health and care plans for children and young people with autism

• Reducing the waiting time for assessment and increasing the use of direct payments and personal budgets

• Increasing training for staff and using more creative ways to support communication and increase the number of parent groups and sibling groups

• Plans to run new summer schools and open a second specialist youth club better placed to meet the needs of young people with autism.

Shadow minister in call for more support

MP Diane Abbott, shadow minister for public health, is backing a charity campaign calling for more support for people with autism from black and ethnic minority (BME) backgrounds.

Ms Abbott is working with the National Autistic Society (NAS) to highlight the obstacles that often prevent people from these communities accessing the support and services they need.

Ms Abbott said: “It’s vital that we do more to understand autism and its impact on black and ethnic minority communities, we hope this campaign is a first step towards a greater understanding and better support.”

The NAS now hopes to carry out the largest ever survey into the experiences of people with autism from BME backgrounds.