Standing up for the Rights of People with Autism
Written by Andrew Stretton
Edited by Anthony Figueroa
Winning the 2013 Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award, Member of Parliament Robert Buckland has been one of the most outspoken champions on autistic rights particularly on special education during his term in parliament since his 2010 inauguration.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It is a spectrum condition, meaning people with autism are affected in different ways. Autism affects how people make sense of the world around them and as a result many autistic people have Special Education Needs (SEN) and may need extra specialist support in school. The National Autistic Society estimates that over 1 in 100 people in the United Kingdom alone have autism.
A former barrister representing South Swindon, Mr Buckland has been an active contributor to debates and served on numerous Select Committees up until his promotion to the role of Solicitor General in the government reshuffle in July 2014. He has been prominent in standing up for the rights of people with autism, bringing the voices of disadvantaged young people straight into the heart of parliament. His intervention has secured access to legal help that thousands of young people with autism and SEN need to secure a quality education.
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, he established a SEN Commission that aims to improve the experiences and prospects for young people with SEN. This bold move involves taking autistic and SEN concerns straight to the government by providing MPs and House of Lords Peers with evidence and arguments in favour of better support for SEN and autism; a chance these young people would otherwise not have had. He has also introduced a ten-minute bill to parliament calling on the government to improve access to health and social care services for people with autism spectrum disorders.
Within his constituency, Mr Buckland has established a SEN Network for parents, secured autism-friendly film screenings and campaigned to improve health, education and social care services for local children. He has also given invaluable support to the campaigns of charities, including Ambitious about Autism and the National Autistic Society, organisations committed to raising awareness of autism and SEN.
In accepting the Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award, Mr Buckland said, “the greatest difficulty in working on autism-related issues is the lack of awareness that people often have about its effects; it is perfectly possible to live a fulfilling and positive life with autism.” The National Autistic Society has praised him for ensuring people with autism spectrum disorders are “consistently represented in Parliament and taking their concerns to the heart of Government.”
Mr Buckland was one of the first politicians to win the Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award in January 2013. As the Policy Driver champion, he won for his work that focused on SEN in his constituency and at a national level. Mr Buckland has credited winning the GDI award with bringing more attention to his campaign to promote awareness. “I found it hugely invigorating to be recognised in this way. In my experience, politics can be a hard slog and it is difficult to actually change anything. When I received this award, it was a small nod that it is still possible to achieve change.”
He added, “For all the charities, local groups and other organisations I work with to help people with autism, this award was an encouragement to them.” Mr Buckland also said he would recommend the Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award to his colleagues, as “it strikes at a fundamental truth [that] politicians can only re-energise interest and trust in politics if we work at a grassroots level.”
Since winning the Policy Driver award, Mr Buckland has continued to chair the APPG on Autism and has held several events in Parliament to continue to raise autism awareness and the unique challenges it poses for public policy makers. He also worked on the Children and Families Bill, now an act, where many of his proposals to improving the Bill were put into effect.