Caroline Stevens in front of National Autistic Society logo

Our charity’s new Chief Executive, Caroline Stevens, writes about the difference that the Autism Act has made for autistic people in England, what still needs to be done, and how you can join us to call on all the parties standing in the general election to create a society that works for autistic people.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the Autism Act in England – a hugely important event to mark in my first week as Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society. 

My son Jack, who is autistic and has a learning disability, was just 15 when the Act came into force. So much has changed for him and the hundreds of thousands of autistic people in England since then, but not enough. 

The Autism Act is still the only piece of legislation in England to improve support for adults with a particular disability, and means the Government has to regularly review its plans. These have to be set out in the national autism strategy. 

The Autism Act came about because of incredible campaigning by our supporters, who joined our campaign to demand a world that works for autistic adults. At the time, there were very few adult autism diagnosis services, and professional understanding across the country was unacceptably poor. 

Our charity worked with Dame Cheryl Gillan MP, who took the Act through Parliament, thousands of autistic people, families, and other autism charities until finally the Act became law on 12 November 2009. 

A decade on, we’ve seen some really important changes. Almost every area in England now has a diagnosis pathway for adults and we’ve seen society’s awareness of autism change significantly. 

But we know not enough has changed. To find out exactly what is left to do, we ran an inquiry with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism this year. It found over two thirds of autistic adults in England do not get the basic support they need. The Autism Act alone is not enough – it needs to be properly implemented to really make society work for autistic people. 

The Act’s anniversary coincides with the next review by the Government of the national autism strategy in England, which is a really important opportunity to improve support for autistic people. And following our campaigning, the strategy will also include children for the first time. But the General Election, announced a few weeks ago, means this strategy won’t be published by the end of the year as expected. 

Autistic people and their families - like mine - can’t afford a long delay. 

That’s why our Not Enough campaign, launched in September, is calling on all parties to publish the national autism strategy as soon as possible after a new government is in place. You can support this by signing our open letter. 

Sign our letter

As the Autism Act turns 10, make it a birthday to remember by joining us to call on every party standing in England to: 

1)    As a priority, publish a new autism strategy to improve understanding and support for autistic children and adults, delivering on the promise of the Autism Act

2)    Commit to an autism public understanding campaign to improve the understanding of millions of people to make sure no autistic person is misunderstood

3)    Create specialist autism teams in every area to tackle the autism diagnosis crisis, which has left thousands waiting years, and provide vital support after diagnosis

4)    Review the definition of “mental disorder” in the Mental Health Act to stop autistic people being inappropriately detained in mental health hospitals and make sure they get the right mental health support in their community

5)    Continue to fund the Autism Education Trust to train and advise tens of thousands of teachers every year, to provide innovative support for autistic children at school.

6)    Make sure all public sector employees, from teachers to doctors, Jobcentre staff and police, have the autism training they need to create public services that work for autistic people

While the Autism Act has changed the lives of many autistic people, we know that there’s still not enough support. This must change. Ten years ago, thousands of supporters started this journey, and now we need you to help us create a society that works for autistic people. 

Sign our letter

Find out more about our Not Enough campaign.

Find out more about how you can support our campaign during the General Election