The National Autistic Society has welcomed the decision by the Government to amend national guidance on how often some people can leave their home during the coronavirus outbreak.
The Society mounted a challenge to the original rules which said that no-one could leave their home for exercise more than once a day, and they had to stay close to home.
Backed by other charities, campaigners and direct comments from individuals, the Society told the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) that going outside for exercise is very important to the health and wellbeing of many children and adults on the autism spectrum.
They added that sometimes autistic people may need to go to quieter places, away from other people, even if these places are further away from their home. They may also need to be accompanied by a carer or support worker who is not someone they live with. Lawyers acting for two families with autistic children also challenged the Government.
The amended guidance now allows people who are autistic or have a learning disability to leave their home more than once a day and travel beyond their local area if this is important to their health. The guidance also states that carers do not have to stay the two metres apart that is usually required by social distancing, but it highlights the importance of only going out when you really need to.
The Society said the change will help autistic people and their families and carers, but it has urged the Government to make sure that the police are aware of the new guidance.
Jane Harris, the Society’s Director of External Affairs, said: “Our own care workers and those of our members have been challenged by both the public and police officers about social distancing when they are doing their best to support autistic people to exercise and get out and about.
“Even seemingly small changes can feel catastrophic to autistic children and adults, so the coronavirus pandemic has been exceptionally challenging for the 700,000 autistic people in the UK and their families. Going out for a walk is an important part of many autistic people’s routine and changing that may jeopardise their health and safety.
“Some autistic people might need someone to go with them on a walk or a trip to the shops and care workers may need to link arms with them, simply to keep them safe. Some could need more than one person with them. If members of the public or police rush to judge, they might think this is someone ignoring the rules of social distancing. But it’s actually vital for that person’s safety and wellbeing.
“It’s so important that the public and the police understand how this worldwide pandemic is affecting all autistic people, and how they can help.”
For more information on autism and coronavirus, visit www.autism.org.uk