Group shot of campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament with quote graphic


Our Head of Policy and Public Affairs Tim Nicholls explains why the tenth anniversary of the Autism Act is so important.

What happened ten years ago?

Ten years ago, our charity’s I Exist campaign identified the lack of support for autistic adults in England. There were too few diagnosis services for adults and many existing services were for people with a learning disability mental health problem, meaning that autistic people fell between the gaps.

We worked with Cheryl Gillan MP and other autism charities to campaign for an Autism Act to make new legal duties to provide adult autism services. With the support of thousands of autistic people and their families, we were successful and the Autism Act became law in November 2009. The Act says that there has to be a Government strategy for improving services for autistic adults, underpinned by legally binding guidance to councils. It also has a built-in review – every five years or so – when the strategy and the statutory guidance are reviewed. This gives us the chance to campaign to make changes.

What was the impact?

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 managed to use the Autism Act’s duties to save services.

But, the Act isn’t implemented properly in too many places. 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.

Where do we go from here?

In 2019, the Government is reviewing the autism strategy again. We are going to work with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (a cross-party group of MPs and Lords) to find out:

  • What has worked well?
  • What hasn’t worked?
  • What needs to change?
  • We’ll submit our evidence and make recommendations on what we think needs to change. And we will campaign hard to make that evidence heard.

    Why are you personally excited about taking the next steps?

    I first joined the National Autistic Society’s Policy and Campaigns Team just as the Autism Bill was reaching its final stages in 2009. I am a brother of an autistic adult, and it gave me hope that his needs would be met.

    We’ve had a lot of success but unless it’s implemented properly, it won’t make a difference to people’s lives. 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 for our Held Back campaign, and a huge opportunity to make sure that autistic children are able to get the support they need too.

    That’s why I’m really excited about this year’s work: to find out what has worked and make sure that the Government’s new strategy makes that happen in more places.

    How can National Autistic Society supporters get involved to make change happen?

    We wouldn’t have got the Autism Act through Parliament without our supporters and we won’t be able to improve the strategy and statutory guidance without your help again. Please take our survey and tell us about your experiences of autism services and support.

    Throughout the year, we’re going to have a range of activities, actions and events for you to be involved in. Sign up to make sure you don’t miss our emails.

    With your support, we can keep campaigning make sure that autistic children and adults get the support they need, that their rights are protected and advanced in Parliament, in the courts and in your area – and together create a society that works for autistic people.

    Take our survey