Headshot photo of Jane Harris, External Affairs Director, next to purple quote

A preview of our Not Enough campaign, by Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society.

This year the Government will be reviewing and updating the autism strategy in England – regardless of whether there is an election. For the first time, the updated strategy will include autistic children as well as adults. This represents a huge opportunity to push for better understanding and services for all autistic people. It’s also a chance to look back at the existing strategy and find out what has and hasn’t worked.

What’s happened so far

Throughout 2008 and 2009, we at the National Autistic Society worked alongside campaigners, other charities and MPs from across Parliament to call for a dedicated law to improve support for autistic adults. Too many autistic adults were struggling to get support, or even a diagnosis. Autistic adults in England were fighting to prove to local services that they even existed.

That campaign, spearheaded in Parliament by Cheryl Gillan MP, led to the Autism Act 2009. It remains the only law in England aimed at improving services for people with one particular disability and is an acknowledgement that autistic people face specific problems in being understood and supported. Since 2009, England has come a long way: adult autism diagnosis services are now accessible in almost every area of England and there are specific commissioners on autism in almost every council.

But a decade on, it's not enough

Over the last year, the National Autistic Society has been working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA) – chaired by Dame Cheryl Gillan – on our most ambitious piece policy work since we campaigned for the Autism Act. We have been gathering evidence from every area in England on how well the Autism Act is being put into practice.

We’ve heard from:

  • Over 11,000 autistic people and their families, who responded to our survey. That’s our biggest survey response ever, which makes our evidence stronger when we’re pushing government to do more.
  • Sixty-nine witnesses, including autistic people, families and professionals, who spoke about their experiences at six different in-depth evidence sessions, each chaired by a different MP. We thank all the witnesses and MPs for their time and support.
  • Over 70 autistic people or family members who sent us longer evidence in writing.
  • Six focus groups of autistic people, families, professionals and our Young Ambassadors.

This evidence has been pulled together in a report from the APPGA, which is being published next week. The report looks at what has changed over the last 10 years and what hasn’t. Most importantly, it sets out what needs to happen now to make sure the Autism Act lives up to its promise.

It is impossible to ignore the effect that shrunken council budgets and local health and care cuts have had on implementing the Autism Act. The Government can have noble intentions, but the reality is that if services don’t have the staff and money to make them happen, autistic people and their families will continue to struggle alone.

Thank you

This new report will launch on Monday. It is the result of a year’s hard work, which wouldn’t have been possible without input from thousands of real-life experts. I’d like to thank each and every person who has been involved. The report will set out a bold – and achievable – ambition for autism support for the coming years. I can’t wait for you to see it.

This is where the hard work will start. We will need your help to make it happen. In the next couple of weeks, we will be asking you to speak up to get the support and understanding that hundreds of thousands of autistic people need. Talk to your MPs (or your candidates if there’s an election). Talk to your councillors, your commissioners, your friends and families. We will provide information online about how to do this.

We know that politics is difficult to predict at the moment, but getting the right support for autistic people and their families must be a concern for any government. Working together, we can make sure it is.

The report of the APPGA’s inquiry will be published on our website on Monday 9 September.