What is the Autism Act?

The Autism Act 2009 was the result of two years of active campaigning, with thousands of National Autistic Society members and supporters persuading their MPs to get behind Cheryl Gillan MP’s Private Members Bill.

It is the only act dedicated to improving support and services for one disability.

The Act did two key things:

  1. Put a duty on the Government to produce and regularly review an autism strategy to meet the needs of autistic adults in England. The first ever strategy for autistic people in England – entitled Fulfilling and rewarding lives – was published in 2010 with a commitment to review this strategy three years later. The new strategy, Think Autism, was published in April 2014.
  2. Put a duty on the Government to produce statutory guidance for local authorities to implement the strategy locally.

What impact has the Act had?

In 2009, most areas in England didn’t have an adult diagnosis service. Now almost all (93%) do. Nearly every council has a designated member to lead the development of adult autism services. And, during a time when council services have faced cuts, we have been able to use the Autism Act’s duties to save services.

In other good news, late last year the Government announced that, for the first time, the autism strategy would be extended to cover children. This is a big win forour Held Back campaign, and a huge opportunity to make sure that autistic children receive the support they need too.

In spite of improvements, we know there is much more to do, as some areas are not meeting their obligations under the Act. People are still waiting far too long for an autism diagnosis. Despite clear legal obligations, too many are denied an assessment of their social care needs.

That’s not good enough and we want to change it.

How can we improve the act?

To mark the 10th anniversary of the Autism Act, our charity has been working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism to explore what has worked, what isn’t working and what needs to change to support autistic people.

We will use this opportunity to identify the gaps, highlight best practice and campaign hard for better services and support.

Find out more about the project here.

How can I improve things in my area?

We know that while a lot of local areas have been working to improve their services for autistic adults, progress remains patchy. The Department of Health and Social Care requires local authorities to report on their progress regularly through a self-assessment exercise. The information collected through this is available online for each local authority.

If your area is not showing progress, you could follow these steps:

  1. Check that your local authority and NHS know about their duties. Your local authority should have an "Autism Lead" who should oversee planning for autistic adults in your area.
  2. Meet with key people in your area including your Autism Lead and local politicians to highlight the statutory guidance.
  3. Your area should have a partnership between the council, the NHS and autistic people (this might be called an Autism Partnership Board), which you might be able to join.
  4. If your council or NHS are making decisions that go against the statutory guidance, you might be able to take legal action.

If you join our campaign you can work with us to ensure that autistic people, no matter where they are in England, receive the support that they need. 

We have answered some of the questions that people might have about the Autism Act, adult autism strategy and adult autism statutory guidance in England. We hope that it is helpful. If you have any other questions you can email campaign@nas.org.uk.