DLA Reassessment & Autistic Spectrum Disorder
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DLA Reassessment: I Know Who Won’t be Playing the System

autistic spectrum disorder michael acton-coles

DLA Reassessment: I Know Who Won’t be Playing the System

Image copyright: miluxian / 123RF Stock Photo

It can be fascinating watching a young child as they begin to master the art of deceit. Some are better at it than others, of course, and will calmly look their parents in the eye and deny their naughty behaviour as if butter wouldn’t melt – only to be undone by an unguarded admission five minutes later.
It is also very endearing to watch, but underneath the cute-factor, there is some serious social learning going on and by the time we’re adults, most of us have at least some ability to manipulate scenarios to present ourselves in the most favourable light. The government clearly believe that some people on certain disability benefits have done just that – to the detriment of the public purse – and they are out to put it right.

Changes in Disability Living Allowance

As some of you will undoubtedly be aware, starting in April, and continuing into 2016, a shockwave will be rippling through the benefits system, as the allegedly bloated Disability Living Allowance gives way to a slimmed down benefit known as Personal Independence Payments. The government have made no bones about the fact that they intend to offload twenty per cent of the current DLA ‘caseload’, and disability campaigners are understandably keen to see just how this is to be implemented.
It remains to be confirmed what criteria will be used in assessing people for PIP, or how the criteria will be scored, but the coalition seem determined to stop people from ‘playing the system’. I wonder how they will approach the undoubtedly grey area of mental disability. Although it should be pointed out that PIP (or DLA for that matter) are not ‘out of work’ benefits, a loss or drastic cut in any form of benefit will inevitably create financial pressure that might require the claimant to find some form of employment or work more hours. This could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back for those struggling to get by with a mental disability.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Work

Take Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome, two similar types of brain disability that impair the social abilities but that often leave the physical body unaffected. What PIP assessors will need to understand is that the world that the autistic individual has to navigate is a very different world than that experienced by the non-autistic person. The social landscape that a five-year-old is becoming adept at navigating is still very much alien territory to the adult autistic person. Yes, they may be physically capable of working for eight hours on a supermarket check-out – and may very well want to – but they may only be able to handle that environment in small doses, and may need considerable support in doing so.
How will the government ensure these factors are duly considered?

Playing the System

Very soon, some DLA claimants will face reassessment. Naturally, most will want to portray themselves in the best possible light and their social training will kick in. They will know that the assessor will need to tick certain boxes if they are to continue to receive the support they feel they need, and will be thinking about how best to frame their answers to get the result they want. In the back of their mind they will be aware of the governments pledge to cut the caseload, and will be listening to the questions carefully, perhaps wary that there may be snares in place to trip them up. They may alter their body language to support their statements and adjust their behaviour in response to subtle physical cues from the assessor. People with ASD or Asperger’s Syndrome will be simply incapable of managing anything like that level of social complexity, and will be largely at the mercy of the questions chosen and the way they are framed. Subsequently, they could easily be manipulated to fit in with a higher agenda of which they would be innocently unaware.
In short, the government should rest assured that anyone with Autistic Spectrum Disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome will not – by definition – be guilty of playing the system to receive benefits they do not need.

That, to me, seems to be the special province of naughty five-year-olds.

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