The Government today launched a new multi-million pound strategy to help improve the lives of people with autism.
The Autism Strategy, which will be backed by nearly £75m in the first year, aims to speed up diagnosis and improve support and care for autistic people.
There are approximately 700,000 autistic people in the UK and a large number experience health inequalities during their lives.
The life expectancy gap for autistic people is on average 16 years compared to the general population and almost 80% of autistic adults experience mental health problems during their lifetime.
‘Improving the lives of autistic people is a priority and this new strategy, backed by almost £75m in the first year, will help us create a society that truly understands and includes autistic people in all aspects of life,’ said health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid.
‘It will reduce diagnosis waiting times for children and adults and improve community support for autistic people. This is crucial in reducing the health inequalities they face, and the unacceptable life expectancy gap that exists today.’
The strategy will run until 2026 and aims to improve understanding and acceptance of autism within society.
It also aims at strengthening access to education and supporting positive transitions into adulthood. This will be achieved by expanding a school-based identification programme based on a pilot in Bradford from 10 to over 100 schools over the next three years.
The strategy is also designed to improve the accessibility of job centres for autistic people.
The minister for children and families, Vicky Ford commented: ‘Many people who have autism face unacceptable barriers in every aspect of their lives – in health, employment and still too often in their education. I’m proud that the new Autism Strategy will, for the first time ever, also consider how to better support autistic children and young people’s access to education.
‘A huge part of how we can address the inequalities that these children and young people face is by increasing our awareness and understanding of their needs, and tailoring the support available to them. Working closely with the healthcare services, we can level up outcomes for autistic young people in generations to come.’
The Autism Strategy includes £13m of funding to reduce diagnosis waiting times and increase availability of post-diagnostic support for children and adults. It will also address backlogs of people waiting – backlogs which have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around £40m of the strategy’s funding will be part of the NHS Long Term Plan to improve community support and prevent avoidable admissions of autistic people and those with a learning disability. Over £18m will also improve the quality of inpatient mental health settings.
A new toolkit will be developed to help educate frontline staff in the criminal and youth justice systems about autism.
Commenting on the Autism Strategy, Caroline Stevens, chief executive of the National Autistic Society said: 'The strategy recognises many of the biggest challenges autistic people of all ages face.
'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.
'So, we’re really pleased to finally see these as concrete actions in the first year of the new strategy, alongside other important commitments for autistic people and their families.
'But the true success of the strategy will depend on the Government investing in autistic people each year, as well as the Prime Minister honouring his promise to fix the social care crisis. If this happens, this strategy could be a significant step forward in creating a society that really works for autistic children, adults and their families.'
Responding to the publication of the Government’s Autism Strategy, Cllr David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: 'This new strategy, the first of its kind to cover children and young people as well as adults, rightly focuses on supporting autistic people to live their lives in their communities, widening the focus beyond social care and health services.
'People with autism and their experiences deserve to be at the heart of this strategy and councils are doing what they can to support them locally.
'Councils stand ready to help achieve the Government’s ambition as outlined in the strategy. To cope with rising demand and to ensure the right support is available for all who need it, the upcoming Spending Review is an opportunity for government to fully fund support in the long-term.'