landscape shot of the Houses of Parliament

We have some big news. The Government has today announced plans to introduce an updated national autism strategy, which will cover people of all ages in England for the first time. We are really pleased that after 10 years of calling for the strategy to cover both children and adults, the Government is making this commitment to improve the lives of future generations. We know both children and adults face huge challenges and need more support. 

This commitment will be part of the Government’s review of the adult autism strategy, which launched almost ten years ago. While we know that support for autistic adults is still nowhere near as good as it needs to be, we also have evidence that the areas that the previous autism strategies have focused on have been improved. 

Ministers have acknowledged that far too many children on the autism spectrum are currently held back from achieving their potential. They have accepted that we need a national approach to improve the support that is offered to children and their families.

We have been calling for a national strategy to meet the needs of children on the autism spectrum since the publication of a report on autism and education a year ago by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA). The APPGA concluded that many children and their families struggle to get the right school place, an assessment of their needs, and additional support from health and social care services. For too many autistic children, their experience becomes ‘a pathway of failure’. 

In January this year, more than 20,000 people signed an open letter to the Secretary of State for Education supporting our ‘Held Back’ campaign with Ambitious about Autism and calling for a national autism and education strategy. Thank you to everyone who signed this, gave evidence to the APPGA inquiry and pushed locally and nationally alongside us for better support for autistic children. 

Update

The Government has now formally responded to the APPGA’s report, in a letter from Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families. As well as confirming the extension of the autism strategy following the inquiry, the letter also responds to other recommendations made by the APPGA around autism awareness and training in schools, collecting data to improve planning, and making the SEND system more accountable. Download a PDF of the letter.

What happens next?

The Government will collect evidence from autistic children, families and their carers on how to improve current levels of support. We look forward to providing ministers with the information they need, and to participating in discussions about creating a strategy that will not just say the right things but will change the experiences of both children and adults across the country.

Our reaction

Welcoming the news, Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “This is fantastic news and has the potential to improve the lives of the 125,000 autistic children in England – and future generations. We hear every day from parents of autistic children that they are waiting for years to get a diagnosis, a decent education or basic support for their children. This can have a devastating and lifelong impact, often affecting the whole family's mental health or children's long-term chances in life.

“A recent inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism found that half of parents wait more than a year for the right education support for their autistic children - and over four in ten were turned away the first time they asked for an assessment for support for their child. This isn’t good enough.

“We’ve seen the impact of the adult autism strategy since it was introduced almost 10 years ago. While the implementation of the adult autism strategy is still patchy, almost every area now has adult diagnosis services and a commissioner who’s responsible for autism. This has had a huge impact on waiting times for diagnosis, which are now appear far lower for adults than for children, although they are still too long.

“It is absolutely right that the Government's upcoming autism strategy will cover autistic people of all ages as everyone deserves better support and understanding. This is an opportunity to drive forward improvements in education, health, care and public understanding - and make sure that no autistic child or adult is held back from reaching their potential. The strategy must put in place the right health, care and education services, reduce social isolation and open up opportunities for autistic people of all ages.”

This announcement applies only to England, because decisions about education, health and social care services are devolved to the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are campaigning in each part of the UK for better services and support for children and adults on the autism spectrum. Read about our wider campaigning on the campaign section of our website.

More information

For information and advice about autism and education, visit this page of our website

If you’re looking for confidential information and support about education rights and entitlements, please contact our Education Rights Service

To find out more about support for autistic adults, please visit our web page about adult life.

Find out more about the existing adult autism strategy, on this dedicated page of our website.