Headshot photo of CEO Caroline Stevens in spectrum logo

Caroline Stevens has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society and will be joining the charity in November. Caroline will be joining the charity after six years serving as Chief Executive of KIDS.

Dr Carol Homden CBE, Chair of the National Autistic Society said: “I am delighted to be welcoming Caroline Stevens as the National Autistic Society’s new Chief Executive on behalf of our charity’s board of trustees, and all our supporters, staff and volunteers.

“Caroline will be joining our charity in November. Her exceptional experience as a leader in the charity and health sectors, combined with her own direct experience supporting her autistic son and as a member of our charity for 20 years, means she brings both new insight and grounded understanding of the day-to-day experiences of autistic people and their families to lead our charity for the future.

“As we recognise the progress and remaining challenges 10 years after the Autism Act, we look forward to working with Caroline and our dedicated management team, staff and volunteers to build on and increase our impact - both through the education, support and advice we provide directly and our influence on policy, practice and public understanding of autism – in order to realise our vision of a society that works for autistic people."

A letter from Caroline Stevens

Dear National Autistic Society members, supporters, staff and volunteers

I am really excited to be joining as your Chief Executive in November. I know from personal experience about the huge challenges facing autistic people and their families and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be joining the National Autistic Society and playing a role in changing experiences and life chances for the better.

You probably want to know a bit about me. I have worked in the healthcare and voluntary sector for my whole career, starting as a pharmacist and hospital director and then moving to work in health and disability charities. I have been Chief Executive of KIDS for six years. I’m also the Trustee of a charity supporting carers of people with dementia and I’ve served as the Vice Chair of the Council for Disabled Children. What has driven me throughout my career has been a desire to make life better for people who are facing huge challenges in their lives and do not get the support they need to live their lives to the fullest.

I am acutely aware of the gaps in support for autistic people. One of my three children is autistic and has a learning disability. Far too often, we have had to battle to get essential services for him, so that he can enjoy things in life that the vast majority of people take for granted. Like any parent, I want him to have the chance to live independently, and I am devastated that for too many autistic adults this isn’t the case.

But I am also hopeful that we at the National Autistic Society can play a part in resolving these challenges and making society work far better for autistic people. I became a member of the National Autistic Society 20 years ago when the charity helped us to get a diagnosis for our son.

It is amazing to me to think that 54 years ago, there was just one school in the whole world that specialised in educating supposedly ‘ineducable’ autistic children and no specialist autism social care services at all – we now have hundreds across the UK. At that time too, the word ‘autism’ was almost unknown – this month we have had a storyline about autism in one of the UK’s most popular soaps. And soon after I join you in November, we will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Autism Act. I know I am joining a charity and a cause that is making progress, thanks to all the efforts of our supporters, staff, volunteers and Board of Trustees.

I remain deeply troubled that thousands of autistic people who could be living independent lives and playing an active part in the workforce find it challenging to gain and sustain employment. I have been shocked to read of the appallingly high rates of social isolation and mental health problems among autistic people. And I know from my own experience about the gaps in provision in education and social care for autistic people of all ages and how much more there is to do.

I’m planning to spend my first couple of months meeting some of the people who have helped to make social change possible – autistic people and family members who campaign and fundraise for us, our 3,200 staff, our dedicated branches and 2,000 volunteers, and hundreds of generous donors, campaigners and policy-makers who have helped to advocate for the changes we all want to see. If there is anything you want me to know about before I join, please email me at nas@nas.org.uk.

I promise to do everything I can – working with the Board and the management team – to help to transform more autistic people’s lives and change society’s attitudes more quickly. I will strive to make sure the support and guidance we provide are the best possible quality, are based on people’s real needs and experiences and help as many people as possible. I will work to support our dedicated staff and branches and also make sure that we push for changes in public understanding, policy and professional and business practices that can really benefit autistic people.

For me, this is an exciting professional challenge, but it is also personal. I need society to work better for autistic people - my son’s future depends on it.

Best wishes,

Caroline Stevens

 

One of our Trustees, Stewart Rapley, has written a blog for us about his experience of the process of recruiting a new Chief Executive. Read it here.

Have a question? Visit our frequently asked questions page here or email nas@nas.org.uk.