The Government has launched a new multi-million-pound strategy today, to help improve the lives of autistic people.
Backed by nearly £75m in the first year, it aims to speed up diagnosis and improve support and care for autistic people. The funding includes £40m through the NHS Long Term Plan to improve capacity in crisis services and support children with complex needs in inpatient care.
This strategy will align with wider Government work through the National Disability Strategy and the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) review. The Government has said that it will ensure issues relevant to autistic people are considered as part of these programmes of work.
The life expectancy gap for autistic people is approximately 16 years, on average, compared to the general population and almost 80% of autistic adults experience mental health problems during their lifetime.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges many autistic people already face, such as loneliness and social isolation, and anxiety.
This new strategy has been developed with the views and experiences of autistic people provided in response to the Government’s call for evidence in 2019. The strategy will run until 2026 and aims to:
- 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. This will help people recognise the diversity of the autistic community; that every autistic person is different. It includes improving understanding of the strengths and positives of being autistic, as well as the challenges people might face in their daily lives and how distressed behaviour can manifest itself.
- 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 £13m 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 £40m 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 £18.5m 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’re 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.’
Nellie Allsop, autistic woman and campaigner, said, ‘I’m extremely happy to see the launch of the strategy. Having been diagnosed last year, age 25, I’m still yet to tell people close to me that I’m autistic, for worry that they won’t quite ‘get it’. That’s why I’m delighted to hear that this strategy aims to improve the understanding and acceptance of autism amongst the general public. I’m also pleased it will include plans to build the right mental health support in the community for autistic people. As someone who avoided a hospital admission thanks to the work of an NHS crisis team, I’ve experienced first-hand the benefits of good mental health support in the community. Nevertheless, more does need to be done to improve community support and understanding of autism within all community mental health teams - something I hope this strategy will address.’
This strategy’s accompanying implementation plan will lay the foundations in the first year, for what the Government aims to achieve over the course of the next five years. It will be refreshed in subsequent years, in line with future Spending Reviews.
Visit the Government website for more information about the strategy.