Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
The Government published the next strategy to improve the lives of autistic people in July 2021. This is the first across government strategy which covers children and young people as well as adults.
The strategy has been informed by independent research commissioned from the Policy Innovation Research Unit to undertake into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on autistic people and their families.
The government also commissioned Skills for Care, the National Development Team for Inclusion and the National Autistic Society to produce a guide to help commissioners to identify local demand and develop the right services and support for autistic people, which is published alongside this strategy.
The National Autistic Society (autism.org.uk) recently released what they believe are the top 5 things you need to know about the strategy, here they are:
1. The strategy outlines the Government’s plans to improve your services and support
This covers mental health, diagnosis, employment, education, public understanding and the justice system. The big things they have committed to include:
- Investing £10.5 million into finding new ways to reduce diagnosis waiting times for children and young people
- Investing £2.5 million into improving the quality of adult diagnostic and post-diagnostic pathways and diagnosis waiting times
- Increasing public understanding of autism with a long-term, nationwide initiative
- Providing £18.5 million to prevent autistic people from falling into mental health crisis and £21 million to local authorities to help people in mental health hospitals back into the community
- Improving understanding by training education professionals, job centre staff and frontline staff in the justice system.
2. This strategy has more money than any of the other previous strategies, but it really needs social care to be fixed too.
One of the biggest flaws in previous versions of the autism strategy was the lack of money to make change happen. This time, the Government has committed almost £75 million to the first year of this strategy – this will be put towards developing a public understanding campaign, reducing diagnosis waiting times and increasing crisis support in the community, among other things.
However, we know that the biggest struggle that many autistic people have is getting support from social care. In 2019, we found that over 2 in 3 autistic adults don’t get the support they need to carry out everyday things, like going out and about, making meals and paying bills. The strategy doesn’t set out specifically what services will be provided to help these people, so it will be really important that every council talks to autistic people in their area to ask them what they need, and then invest in those services.
Social care across the whole of England desperately needs reform and long-term, sustainable funding. On his first day in office, the Prime Minister promised to fix social care. We will continue to campaign until he has delivered on that promise.
3. It’s the first autism strategy to include children
Previous strategies have focused only on autistic adults. The National Autistic Society successfully campaigned for this strategy to include children and young people. There are many new commitments as a result, including more training for teachers, a new anti-bullying programme in schools and making sure autistic young people can find supported internships and apprenticeships.
4. The commitments are only until 2022
Although the strategy is supposed to cover five years, the commitments in this new strategy only take us up to 2022. This is because there is a Spending Review scheduled for autumn. The Spending Review sets out how much money the Government plans to spend on public services, usually over a 3- or 4-year period so that government departments can make long-term plans. The Department of Health and Social Care needs to know how much they can spend on the rest of the strategy before they can make any commitments. We will campaign to make sure that the strategy receives appropriate funding for years 2-5. We need your help to do this, so sign up for updates on our campaigns here.
5. Every local council in England needs to implement the autism strategy
The autism strategy is underpinned by legally binding guidance to councils. Each council and NHS body needs to look at the strategy to see how it can improve its local services. Nearly every council has an Autism Lead or an Autism Partnership Board who oversees the carrying out of the strategy. You can make sure the strategy works for autistic people in your area by getting involved with your local Autism Partnership Board through your council. We’ll keep working with our campaigners and branch members to make sure that the autism strategy is implemented in local areas. This has been a small snapshot of what the autism strategy includes.
This is what Tower Project's Autism Day Service Manager Belinda Foster had to say
"The new Autism Strategy 2021 – 2026 now includes children and young people, whereas before, the old strategy only gave way for autistic adults. If the strategy is executed well, we should see less children and young people being excluded from schools due to their autism. The Tower Project have seen a number of children excluded from school and their educational placements closed due to the challenges that they can face. This can only be attributed to the lack of knowledge and understanding of Autism which has led to autistic people becoming isolated and worse still, being admitted to long stay hospital as their mental health begins to deteriorate." She goes on to say "The new strategy also outlines that with the "right” individualised support, the need for admission and the threat of self-isolation will be less likely, this will in-turn make the individual feel a lot happier and improve their overall health and well-being. The strategy will also support families and carers to be able to continue to care for their sons/daughters at home and within their own comfortable environments. We will hopefully see more opportunities for our service members to be able to live independently within their communities if they so choose.
The strategy also outlines that it will promote more opportunities for employment for adults by raising awareness of autism in the community and within business. This is a huge step forward for people living with autism being able to enter the world of work.
The new strategy also includes Autism and the Criminal justice system which will hopefully mean that if an autistic person for any reason ends up in the system that they will hopefully have access to the right support. We have already seen this with places such as Feltham HM Young Offenders Institute being the first prison to have successfully gained Autism Accreditation. Autism Accreditation is the UK’s only autism specific quality Assurance programme of support and development for everyone providing support to autistic people including children, young people and adults.
My hope is that with the new strategy in place, our autistic children, young people and adults are given access to the right support wherever and whenever they need it to be able to live and thrive within their community and also given the same opportunities as everyone else. "
National strategy for autistic children, young people and adults: 2021 to 2026 - DOWNLOAD HERE.
Easy read version- National strategy for autistic children, young people and adults: 2021 to 2026 - DOWNLOAD HERE
Keep an eye out for next week's Tower Project Times as we will be hearing from Tower Project's Autism Service Manager Belinda Foster and her thoughts on the new strategy and what it means for the families in her care.