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Monmouthshire council virtual advice service for autism praised by users

AN online advice service aimed at supporting people with autism has been praised by its users. The Virtual Autism Advice Service (VAAS) is run in conjunction with Monmouthshire County Council and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board’s Integrated Autism Service (IAS). The online sessions were created in light of the pandemic restrictions as a way of offering people with autism help, support and advice as an alternative to face-to-face meetings.

The service has been supporting people with coping strategies, information and advice, signposting to other services, information about referrals for diagnosis, information regarding education and support with employment opportunities.

Over 108 sessions have already been accessed since implementation last May, with people joining virtually from across Gwent, including Monmouthshire, Caerphilly, Newport, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent. The sessions run every Tuesday with four sessions each being held across the day, each lasting 45 minutes. The team has also seen an increase in demand for the service with extra sessions being held at short notice to ensure all people are supported.

Feedback gathered from the service users between October and December 2020 shows the impact the virtual sessions have been making. 32 service evaluation forms were returned for this period. The feedback showed:

84% rated their overall experience of the VAAS as ‘very good’, 9% rated their overall experience as ‘good’. 7% rated their overall experience as satisfactory;

100% of attendees report that they felt listened to;

100% of attendees reported that they were provided with information or assistance that may have been able to help;

80% of attendees reported that they felt comfortable with a virtual session.

One person reported that they felt uncomfortable going on camera but still commented that the session was really good.

Despite the data showing a great response to the service, the team have been overwhelmed by the comments left by the people accessing the sessions. Just some of the comments include:

“I could share my difficulties with people who understand autism without having to explain myself. The response was empathic and helpful and reduced my anxiety. Good advice in managing anxiety and aspects of autism.”

“Help with benefits and worries, to be listened to and to have someone there its truly been really wonderful.”

“I have recommended this service to an autistic friend. More information about how often I can access the service, i.e are there time limits. This service needs to be more promoted as I didn’t know I could get this support until I contacted the IAS directly.”

“Thank you for making the start of this diagnosis process comfortable and it has helped massively.”

“Without this service, I don’t think I would be understood.”

“I am very appreciative of having the opportunity to speak to yourselves, as both my son and I have struggled for so long trying to find appropriate help and support. You seem genuinely interested in helping. Thank you!”

Cabinet Member for Social Care, Safeguarding and Health, Councillor Penny Jones said:

“We’ve constantly seen services adapting and changing throughout the pandemic to ensure the needs of our communities are supported. I’m so proud to hear the virtual sessions offered by the Integrated Autism Service are being so well received by those who need the support and advice. It’s a testament to the hard work and determination of our colleagues across the service. Receiving a diagnosis such as autism can be an anxious time and we want to remind people we are on hand to offer support and answer any questions you may have.”

Nick Wood, Executive Director of Primary, Community and Mental Health Services, said:

“We are delighted to have worked in partnership with Monmouthshire County Council to establish this virtual support service. This initiative was so important to us as a Health Board, as we wanted to offer as much support as possible to those with autism, during a time of such significant disruption. Being unable to provide this support in person was challenging, but we are so pleased that this online service has made a real difference to those diagnosed with autism across our Health Board area.”

Anyone wanting further information about the service or advice regarding autism can contact 01633 644143 or asdservice.abb@wales.nhs.uk

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