7 The Autism Act and related legislation
A landmark piece of legislation in England was the Autism Act of 2009, which came out of an NAS campaign to highlight the problems faced by autistic adults. It required all local authorities to develop an autism strategy to provide relevant services, from the authority themselves and from other bodies such as NHS trusts, in order to meet the needs of autistic adults, including:
- clear and consistent pathways to diagnosis for adults
- identifying adults in the area already diagnosed as autistic and assessing their needs
- planning for children transitioning to adult services
- training for staff providing services
- providing help into employment, including developing skills and overcoming barriers which may prevent the person accessing job opportunities.
Building on the first national strategy ‘Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives’, an updated strategy called ‘Think Autism’ was introduced in 2014, with some government money to be used for projects developing local services. There is also a commitment to training for GPs and other healthcare professionals, as well as Disability Employment Advisors at Jobcentres.
The Northern Ireland Assembly passed an Autism Act in 2011, which has a similar focus to the Act in England. Scotland has an autism strategy that covers both children and adults, with aims including supporting autistic people through the many challenges that they might face in their lives, improving people’s quality of life and supporting them into employment where appropriate. Although Wales has an autism strategy, it is not backed by legislation. There are gaps in service provision and diagnosis for adults can take up to seven years in Wales. At the time of writing, the NAS is campaigning for an Autism Act in Wales that is similar to the one in England.
Yet some bodies, such as the Shirley Foundation, have been very critical of the lack of progress made UK-wide in recognition and support for autism since this legislation came into being, and recommend further research into good practice, what is most effective and where money should be spent (Iemmi et al., 2017).