A visiting British parliamentarian who has taken up the cause of improving life for families with autistic children is looking to Israel for answers on how to improve special needs within the UK's education system, and to raise public awareness on the condition in general.
"I think one of the ways forward to understanding between two countries is where they can share things," Lee Scott, Conservative party MP for Ilford North told The Jerusalem Post in an interview Wednesday. "If Israel has made headway in this subject, then there is no reason why other countries should not benefit and learn from it."
Scott, who has been visiting this week as part of an organized delegation of Conservative Friends of Israel, told the Post that Britain has much to learn from Israel as far as legislation providing for families with special-needs children, and medical research on the subject conducted by the country's various universities.
"My understanding is that Israel is quite advanced in this area," said Scott, who has close family living here and is a pro-active voice for Israel within British politics. "A lot of research is happening here, and I want to try and foster relations between Israel and the UK on this subject."
Scott said that his interest in autism - a neuro-developmental disorder that affects roughly one in 100 children in the UK and one in every 240 children in Israel - stems from his constituent Ivan Corea, founder of the Autism Awareness Campaign UK.
"In England, the educational provisions for children with special needs is very patchy," said Scott, explaining that while some areas have several schools for special-needs children or mainstream schools designed to help them, other areas have no viable options.
"One of the big issues is how far parents have to travel to take their children to school," said Scott. "If there are no suitable schools in the area, then a tremendous amount of pressure is put on already stressed-out parents."
In Israel, local authorities must provide special-needs children with subsidized or free transport so children can attend the schools of their choice. While in the past families were forced to go through a painful bureaucratic process to secure the funds, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog pledged less than a month ago to pass further legislation on the matter and even reached an agreement with the Finance Ministry and the Local Authorities to make the process far more straightforward.
Another area where Israel has made great progress, according to Scott, is in diagnosing autism.
"Here it is done much earlier than in Britain," he said. "The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis." As part of his campaign to raise awareness of problems faced by autistic children in British society, Scott has met with some of his country's top officials, including Prime Minister Tony Blair and his own party's leader, David Cameron.
Earlier this year, he led a debate on the subject in Parliament, which succeeded in placing autism high up on the cross-party political agenda and even obtaining a promise from the prime minister to formulate a 10-year national strategy for autism before he leaves office this summer.
"I know there are differences here [in Israel], with a large proportion of the national budget going towards defense," observed Scott. "And in a country faced by daily terrorist attacks, that is bound to take attention away from these issues. But this affects daily life just as much and is equally as important."