A new five-year strategy that will aim to improve the care for people and children with autism has been launched today by the Department of Health and Social Care. The strategy focuses on how to support the educational and employment needs of those with autism, and to improve understanding and acceptance within society.
Minister for Care, Helen Whately said: “Far too many autistic people still struggle to get the support they need in childhood, and as adults – and this is often exacerbated by not getting a timely diagnosis.
“This landmark strategy will help give autistic people equal opportunities to flourish in their communities as well as better access to the support they need throughout their lives.”
The strategy has been formed through engagement activities with autism charities and was developed after the government issued a call for evidence in 2019. Although the strategy will run for five years, the commitments in the report only go up to 2022, because there is a government spending review in the Autumn.
The strategy will be supported by £74.88m in funding in year one, and has six key targets:
- Improve understanding and acceptance of autism within society: Developing and testing an initiative to improve the public’s understanding of autistic people – both the strengths and positives as well as the challenges, working with autistic people, their families and the voluntary sector.
- Strengthen access to education and support positive transitions into adulthood: Testing and expanding a school-based identification programme based on a pilot in Bradford from 10 to over 100 schools over the next three years. Early findings from the pilot show children are being identified earlier and getting support quicker.
- Support more autistic people into employment: Improving the accessibility of job centres for autistic people, to get them the right help to find jobs or employment programmes.
- Tackle health and care inequalities: Providing £13 million of funding to reduce diagnosis waiting times and increase availability of post-diagnostic support for children and adults, and address backlogs of people waiting made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Build the right support in the community and supporting people in inpatient care: Providing £40 million as part of the NHS Long Term Plan to improve community support and prevent avoidable admissions of autistic people and those with a learning disability, and £18.5 million to prevent crises and improve the quality of inpatient mental health settings.
- Improve support within the criminal and youth justice systems: Reviewing findings from the Call for Evidence on neurodiversity, and developing a toolkit to educate frontline staff about this, and the additional support people might need
Caroline Stevens, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society said: “We and our supporters have long campaigned for a fully-funded public understanding campaign, significant investment in reducing diagnosis waiting times and better post-diagnostic support. No-one should feel judged for being autistic, or to have to wait many months for a potentially life changing diagnosis and vital help and support.
“We are really pleased to see concrete actions to tackle this in the first year of the new strategy, alongside other important commitments. The following four years will be just as vital. It’s crucial that the Government invest in autistic people, and finally create a society that really works for autistic children, adults and their families.”
The strategy will align with the National Disability Strategy and the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND).
In the first year improving the public’s perception of autism is a key target and the government has committed to three actions to make people with autism feel less lonely and less isolated:
- Develop and test a public understanding and acceptance initiative.
- Continue to promote disability equality training package for transport operators.
- Resume the ‘it’s everyone’s journey’ campaign to create a more inclusive and supportive public transport environment.
The strategy has been published and is available to read online here.