Brandon’s take on the National Autism Strategy 2021
The long-awaited 2021 National Autism Strategy has been launched. Whilst this is a really important move in the right direction, there are still some uncertainties.
The Government has recognised ongoing health and social inequalities for people with autism, with many struggling to access healthcare, education and employment. In addition, almost 80% of autistic adults face mental health struggles. In 2019, the National Autistic Society found that two in three autistic people don’t get the support they need. This was disproportionately worsened by the pandemic with most autistic people reporting that they felt isolated.
For the first time since 2009 when the Autism Act was introduced, the Government has also recognised children in its plans.
The six themes of the strategy
- Improving understanding and acceptance of autism within society
- Improving autistic children and young people’s access to education, and supporting positive transitions into adulthood
- Supporting more autistic people into employment
- Tackling health and care inequalities for autistic people
- Building the right support in the community and supporting people in inpatient care
- Improving support within the criminal and youth justice systems
We’re pleased to see that there is a plan to provide funding for autism training and professional development in schools and colleges as well as mental health hospitals. According to a study in 2019, autistic children are much more likely to be bullied than other children. We also know that many autistic people are held in mental health facilities too long without access to specialist support, which has a serious and lasting impact.
Another key area is improving transitions into adulthood by promoting pathways to employment and supporting local areas to develop supported employment forums. Currently, only 22% of autistic people are in any kind of employment, despite being told by people we support, that most want to.
The Government has recognised that there is an urgent need to tackle health and care inequalities for autistic people. This includes reducing diagnosis waiting times and improving access to healthy living support.
Grand plans, but can they succeed?
Whilst the Government has committed £75 million for the first year of the plan, it hasn't outlined funding for the following years due to the planned spending review in the autumn.
Whilst this is the largest amount of money to ever have been committed to improving the lives of autistic people, the Government hasn’t yet shown the same commitment to social care. This means that services are unable to increase support for individuals, or provide the support that people with autism are asking for. As a result, there may be gaps in support and the strategy might not be successful. We will continue to support initiatives that campaign for better social care for all.
Some lasting thoughts
Sue Porto, Chief Executive, says: “We’re thrilled that some of the biggest challenges faced by autistic people of all ages are being recognised in the new strategy.
"For many people we support, access to education and work has been challenging, with many facing barriers to both. This has negatively impacted their confidence and it’s therefore very pleasing that these two areas have been recognised in the plan.
“We are hopeful that the funding will continue over the next five years and we’re also interested to see how this strategy will be reflected in the Prime Minister’s promise to fix social care.”
Mary, Quality Checker, says: "I am relieved to see that the government is planning to give more autism training to school and hospital staff and make jobs more easily accessible for us. This strategy should have been carried out years and years ago.
“I feel that the coronavirus lockdowns have improved everyone's understanding of autism. I hope the knowledge gained from the pandemic experience will be applied to the new strategy, so the world can be an easier place for us to live in."
Karen Lutz, Autism Specialist at Brandon, said: “It’s great news to see the autism strategy implementation plan listing the development of many key commitments. In every autism seminar I have attended, autistic people have said that they have been bullied at school and this has had a profound effect on their adult lives. I’m pleased to see this being recognised in the form of a new anti-bullying programme.
“I feel that it is so important to get the diagnosis in there as soon as possible so people get the right support and access to services and an understanding of what autism is. I’m really happy this is being addressed in the plan as well as ongoing health inequalities. This is of particular interest to myself, as I’m currently working with primary care providers, looking at tackling issues with diet, obesity, and increased cardiovascular risk, as well as improving access to healthy living support. This is so important and not something that can be taken for granted.”