A guide for a person with autism attending a Committee meeting

Introduction

Anyone can attend a committee meeting if it is in public session.

This guide sets out some general principles and ideas which should make your attendance at a committee meeting more autism-friendly. If you feel something else should be included you can send helpful suggestions via the feedback box here.

If you have access to a computer we suggest looking up the Assembly Committee web page at this link. You can view a page for each committee which includes the work of the Committee, photographs of the Committee Members and contact details for the Committee Clerk.  The Clerk is a member of Assembly staff responsible for the running and organisation of Committee meetings.

A guide for witnesses attending a Committee meetingalso has lots of useful information for anyone coming to a Committee meeting.

By clicking on this link you can see the business diary for the forthcoming weeks which will give details of the time of the Committee, the room it is being held in, whether it is a public session and some information on the business that will be discussed.

Do not worry if you cannot get to a Committee meeting because you can watch live or recorded coverage of most committee meetings at the following link. If you are unable to attend a committee you could also e-mail questions to the Committee Clerk.

If you are coming to Parliament Buildings please watch the access video on the Assembly autism webpage. This will show you how to access the Stormont Estate and Parliament Buildings and the parking and security procedures you should follow. It also shows the inside of the building including a Committee room.

Do not be afraid to contact an Autism champion in advancewho can accompany you to the meeting and help you with any other arrangements. You are welcome to arrive at the venue early – there is a quiet room behind our main reception which you can use as a starting point and base for your visit.

You are also welcome to visit Parliament Buildings on a quieter day (such as a Friday) prior to the meeting so you can familiarise yourself with the building and Committee rooms.

Parliament Buildings is a well maintained, listed building. There are welfare facilities throughout the building such as a quiet room behind front reception, clean toilets and changing facilities and a first aid room with a clean bed. Opposite main reception there is a gift shop which serves tea and coffee. All our front line staff have autism awareness training and will be happy to assist you with any queries. You are welcome to show them an autism alert card if you do not want to tell them you have autism, or contact an autism champion in advance so that they can meet you on arrival.

Coming to see an Assembly Committee - Some issues that may cause stress for someone with autism and how to we will do our best to reduce this.

Arriving late or getting lost

We understand that getting lost on the way to a meeting or being late is likely to cause a person with autism a great deal of stress and anxiety.  That is why we suggest you contact an autism champion in advance of your visit. The autism champion can give you a number that you can call if you are running late or to help you with directions if you are lost. The autism champion can meet you when you arrive at the building.

If you arrive late at the building you don’t need to hurry straight into the meeting. The autism champion will give you plenty of time to get a drink, use the toilet or sit in the quiet room for a bit if you are stressed for any reason.

Let us reassure you that it doesn’t matter if you are late – although the public gallery is accessed on a first come basis and can sometimes become full, if there are not enough spaces in the public gallery you can watch most committee meetings on television in the quiet room until a space in the gallery becomes available. If you have contacted an autism champion or committee clerk in advance it may be possible to reserve you a seat in the public gallery.

Sensory Issues

Many people on the autistic spectrum have difficulty processing everyday sensory information such as sounds, sights and smells. Within Parliament Buildings there are numerous things going on during the course of the day which would have little effect on a person who does not have autism. However someone on the autistic spectrum could find them very stressful. Some examples would be:

  • The Division Bells which sound to call Members to the Chamber to vote
  • Hand Dryers
  • Building Work to the Building such as Drilling
  • The Fire Alarm going off or being tested on a Friday morning at 9.30am
  • The Smell of Paint if the Building is being decorated
  • The Smell of Cleaning Products
  • Shaking Hands with People
  • Large Crowds of People and Background Noise
  • Lighting
  • Food / Catering

Each person on the autistic spectrum has individual sensitivities so no one person will have the same sensory issues.

If there are any obvious sensory issues occurring at the building such as noisy construction work or painting we will put this information on the homepage of the Assembly Autism web page.

We also have a Quiet Room which a person with autism can use if they need to. In the room we also have some sensory items, including ear defenders which can be borrowed while in the Assembly Building.

Timings during a Committee meeting

Although the Committee Clerk and Chairperson do their best to ensure that the meeting runs to the times stated in the agenda this is not always possible. It can cause a great deal of anxiety for people with autism if things do not happen when they are meant to.

If you contact an autism champion or the Committee Clerk in advance we can arrange to have the agenda in a different format for example having approximate timings on the agenda instead of fixed timings.

It is also important to note that if the Committee goes into private session you will have to leave the room. There is a waiting area near the Committee rooms, or you can go to the quiet room until the meeting returns to public session.

Gallery Rules

The rules for the gallery are outlined below. We understand that you may want to speak or ask something during the meeting however you are only allowed in the public gallery to observe the proceedings quietly. It may therefore be useful for you to write notes and questions on a piece of paper throughout the meeting and you could then give your questions directly to or via e-mail to the Committee clerk after the meeting. They will be happy to help.

Also remember that people may be coming in and out of the room throughout the meeting. This could be other members of the public in the public gallery, the media, Assembly Members, staff, witnesses or Hansard who are the official reporters who record the committee proceedings.

GALLERY RULES

MOBILE PHONES MUST BE TURNED OFF ON ENTERING THE ROOM

1. Follow all instructions from ushers and committee staff. 2. You are here to observe proceedings – not to take part.

3. Observe silence. Clapping, shouting, hissing or stamping of feet is not permitted.

4. The passing of notes or papers to members or witnesses during meetings is not permitted.

5. Briefcases or large bags are not permitted in the meeting room.

6. Electrical or camera equipment is not permitted except by prior permission of the Committee Chairperson.

If you are in the public gallery and are feeling stressed

If you are feeling stressed during the meeting, an autism champion, committee staff member or Assembly usher will be ready to offer support. You are welcome to leave the public gallery at any time and prior to the meeting we will do our best to give anyone with autism a seat by the door.

The quiet room is available for people to take a break from the meeting and it is not far from the Committee Rooms, behind the reception desk on the ground floor. An autism champion, committee staff member or Assembly Usher will show you the way to the quiet room if you are feeling stressed. There is also a first aid room on the second floor with a clean bed where you can rest if you become physically or mentally tired.

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