Today is World Autism Awareness Day, which provides us with an excellent opportunity to publish ‘Think Autism’’. This is the Government’s update to ‘Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives’, our 2010 adult autism strategy.
Think Autism has involved ministers from several departments, reflecting the fact that it is a major priority for the whole administration. Our 5 key areas for action remain:
- increasing awareness and understanding of autism
- developing clear, consistent pathways for the diagnosis of autism
- improving access for adults with autism to services and support
- helping adults with autism into work
- enabling local partners to develop relevant services.
And there is a new focus on building supportive communities, promoting innovative local ideas and services and improving advice and information for people with autism.
We completed a listening exercise through focus groups, events and online surveys involving thousands of people. People with autism, carers, professionals and others who work with people with autism, identified fifteen priority challenges for action and several key themes emerged.
People with autism rightly want to feel safe and accepted in their local community. They also want to be heard. There is a deep desire to connect with others and to find local autism support groups. Everyday services need to make reasonable adjustments to make sure there is full inclusivity for people with autism.
Another thing that emerged very strongly was that people want a timely diagnosis and to be supported throughout that process – and to see autism included in local strategic needs assessments. The crucial nature of support for the families of those with autism was also stressed, as was the fact that the needs of someone with autism will change throughout their life.
And, of course, people with autism want to find understanding employers and pursue worthwhile and rewarding careers.
Considerable progress has been made in recent years. Local authorities have appointed people with the responsibility of ensuring that local needs are met.
We have issued clear national guidance on how the diagnosis, care and management of autism, and the Children and Families Act 2014 will make the transition to adulthood easier.
In some parts of the country we have superb services with brilliant autism teams and diagnostic services. People with autism are also being directly involved with service design more than before.
Awareness is improving too. For example, some cinemas and theatres have “autistic-friendly” shows and there is more coverage of autism in the mainstream media.
And an additional £4.5 million – including an Autism Innovation Fund – will underpin the plans in Think Autism.
There is, however, a lot more to do. Autism awareness is still not nearly as good as it should be. Too many people report gaps in provision and lengthy waits for diagnostic services. Too many employers are still missing out on the skills of people who would love to work for them and who would do a great job. There are examples of a wide range of services failing to do enough to adjust to the needs of users with autism.
Institutions like the National Autistic Society, Autism Alliance UK, Autism Plus, Ambitious about Autism and many smaller but equally important bodies do terrific work. It matters. So too does the support of organisations like Saracens Rugby Club and Goldman Sachs. I am sure they would all agree that we cannot rest on our laurels, and that we should all Think Autism.
Read ‘Think Autism’ online.