autismThe National Autism Project was launched at the House of Lords yesterday [April 28], which seeks to provide authoritative recommendations on autism research and practice in the UK.  

It will also raise awareness at government level of how well-directed investment can benefit those with autism and reduce the demand on UK national resources from autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley launched the initiative and her Shirley Foundation, which has already donated £65 million to autism projects, is the principle sponsor of the project.

Dame Stephanie, whose late son Giles was autistic, believes that a much more strategic approach to addressing the challenges and releasing the potential of those with autism is needed. To this end the National Autism Project, led by a strategy board chaired by Dr Elizabeth Vallance and made up of key figures from the worlds of research and policy, will address the current paucity of national resource devoted to research and intervention in ASD by providing data-based evidence for increasing funding and assisting research-funding bodies to prioritise their efforts.

“In the last 10 years research has started to unlock the secrets of autism but we are a long way from seeing that turned into better life chances for those with the condition,” said Dame Stephanie. “The purpose of the National Autism Project is to show how better investment will lead to better research, better practice and better lives. It is 20 years since I founded my first autism charity and I am so impatient to see real change in my lifetime that I can wait no longer.”  

Dr Vallance added: “Society’s interest in autism has increased rapidly in recent years and we saw the Autism Act in 2009 as the first step on the path to a better future. But the policy picture is still very fragmented and poorly informed, so the National Autism Project has a vital role to play in ensuring that all forms of public policy and investment are well informed and, therefore, well directed.  We are delighted that so many expert and passionate people and organisations have already pledged their support.”