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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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5.1 Autism in the 21st century in the UK

These bullet points summarise some of the key advances in the autism field in the UK during the 21st century:

  • Autism diagnosis now follows internationally agreed criteria and standard procedures – it did not do so in the 1960s. However, there are deficiencies and delays in the accessibility of diagnosis.
  • A range of educational strategies and interventions is in use, with some measure of success. Again, though, access to schools and specialist centres with the resources to implement best practice is often extremely patchy.
  • Research has provided insights into cognition, behavior, brain function and genetics in autism, as well as long-term outcomes. Yet there are huge gaps in this understanding, concerns about funding priorities and calls to inform research from an autistic perspective
  • There is recognition that autism often goes undiagnosed, notably in females (Gould and Ashton-Smith, 2011), and also more widely in the adult population. Rectifying this problem, and meeting the needs of autistic adults generally, remain significant challenges.
  • There have been significant changes in public awareness and perceptions of autism in which autistic people have played a key role. However, there is still ignorance and stigma, and as you have seen, the media has played a mixed role.
  • Autism legislation such as the UK Autism Act 2009 and the Autism Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 are positive steps. However, the NAS and Autism NI joint report, Broken Promises, highlights failure to implement the autism strategy and action plan set out in legislation (Stewart, 2016). Similarly, The Autism Dividend, published by the National Autism Project (Iemmi et al., 2017), documents the UK-wide failure to deliver services and to source evidence-based, cost-effective interventions.