normanlambThe government has published Think Autism, an update to the 2010 adult autism strategy, Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives.

Think Autism has involved ministers from several departments, reflecting the fact that it is a major priority for the whole administration, according to Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb, writing on the Department of Health website. 

The Department of Health also completed a listening exercise through focus groups, events and online surveys involving thousands of people with autism, carers, professionals and others who work with people with autism.

The 5 key areas for action in Think Autism remain the same as in the original strategy:

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. 

The strategy also outlines a new focus on building supportive communities, promoting innovative local ideas and services and improving advice and information for people with autism.

An additional £4.5 million – including an Autism Innovation Fund – will underpin the plans in Think Autism.

But Lamb admitted that there is “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.”

Charities welcome

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, welcomed Think Autism. “If all of us involved rise to the challenge, Think Autism offers the chance of a step change in the quality of services and support for adults with autism. It’s very positive that Think Autism is tackling core issues that affect the quality of the lives of adults with autism: understanding and awareness, and the development and delivery of better services. 

“While welcoming the new adult autism strategy, the National Autistic Society knows that this will only make a difference to people with autism and their families if local authorities and health services establish the best possible plans for local services, and if we in the autism community and the general public help create communities where adults with autism feel understood and can live the life they choose.”

Opportunities from childhood

Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of Ambitious about Autism, added: “The refreshed Autism Strategy helpfully focuses on inclusion for adults with autism – in employment, in communities and in society. At Ambitious about Autism, we know that achieving inclusion as an adult depends on having opportunities to be included right from early childhood.

“Employment rates for adults on the spectrum will not improve unless we urgently address the shocking rates of exclusion from education that young people with autism face. Four in 10 children have been illegally excluded from school and only 1 in 4 young people with autism access any kind of education beyond school.  

“It is essential that the innovation funds… look at ways to improve participation in education and training for young people with autism. According to our research young people with autism are nearly twice as likely to be classified as not in education, employment or training (NEET) compared with other young people, and without better access to education, and improved understanding among employers, we will continue to see people with autism struggling to find jobs. 

“The Children and Families Act 2014 will give 16-25 year olds with autism comparable rights to access further education to those children currently have in schools. We urge local professionals across education, health and care to work together to use the Act and the Autism Strategy refresh to enable more young adults with autism to live and work as part of their communities.’’