Review of autism strategy welcomes approach but raises concerns about access to specialist interventions

boy with autism

The Autism Strategy Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives was published in 2010. The strategy is for England only, but the authors of this general review suggest that a detailed look at the strategy will be of interest across the UK.

The strategy was published following a commitment made in the Autism Act 2009.

It sets out actions and recommendations focusing on five key areas:

  • increasing awareness and understanding of autism
  • developing a clear and consistent pathway for diagnosis
  • improving access to the services and support people need to live independently within the community
  • employment
  • enabling local partners to develop relevant services to meet identified needs and priorities.

The authors of this review discuss the political context in which the strategy was developed as well as initial reactions by stakeholders.

Given the current economic climate, they look at economic considerations, integration across health and social care and the role of diagnostic services and specialist interventions.

They suggest that the strategy was aimed at increasing overall awareness of autism in society and in mainstream public services.

There is also a focus on diagnosis and the importance of clear pathways for diagnosis and needs assessment. They also point out that the strategy aims to promote independent living and better access to work.

There is a focus on intended outcomes, but like many national strategies, how these outcomes are to be achieved is not prescribed in the strategy, as they will be subject to local variation in circumstances. They point out that there is no new legislation associated with the strategy, but it is expected that the current legislative framework, for example the Disability Discrimination Act., will be sufficient to support the desired increased awareness and better work opportunities.

There is a very clear emphasis in the strategy on providing better access for people with autism to mainstream services and the authors raise a concern that this may limit the development of appropriate specialist services. They suggest that as specialist interventions following diagnosis are not prioritised in the strategy that this may limit access.

They raise concerns about the process for evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy, This is to be measured through a process developed by the Department of Health known as “outcomes and ambitions”, but they point out that local authorities will not be required to measure themselves against the DH targets or to make their results known.

In relation to support, they draw attention to the work of the National Autistic Society who have created some training materials, and point out that NICE guidelines for adults with autism are due in 2012

The Autism Strategy: implications for people with autism and for service development, Walsh N, & Hall I, in Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, 6, 3, 113 – 120

You can read the full autism strategy here

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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