IT is estimated that there are about 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK, all of whom see, hear and feel the world differently to other people.

There are huge issues around the assessment process for people to receive an official diagnosis. In January, Gary Emerson, chief officer of Darlington Mind, told how families were facing sustained pressures as support services were lacking and the assessment process could take three or four years for some patients.

In Darlington, there is a 26-week average wait for an adult autism diagnosis, which rises to 56 weeks in Durham.

“MIND believes adults with autism are a forgotten group despite awareness having been raised in recent years,” Mr Emerson told Darlington Borough Council.

While the initiative launched yesterday in Darlington will not plug gaps for autism support in the NHS, it could go a long way towards improving the lives of people with autism.

The town’s effort to become one of the most autism-friendly areas in the country is a campaign being run in partnership with the North East Autism Society, and will see businesses and organisations roll out autism awareness training to all front line staff.

Simple things like learning how better to communicate will have a hugely positive impact on autistic people and Darlington is to be applauded for leading this initiative.

Hopefully if other towns follow suit, those with autism will no longer feel like a forgotten part of our communities.