08th April 2016 Written by National Autistic Society

national autistic society logoAutism is a serious, lifelong disabling condition that affects the way a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. Autism is a spectrum condition which means that, while all people with autism share three main areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live independent lives with little support, whilst others need specialist support throughout their lives.

Research has shown that more than 1 in 100 people in England have autism. By applying the 1.1% rate to the general population, we can estimate that there are nearly 700,000 people with autism in England.

“It’s about understanding autism not fixing autism”

Everyone with autism is an individual. When you have met one person with autism…you’ve met one person with autism. A good understanding of the condition is vital, but the most important thing is to recognise the individual person who has the diagnosis. If we do this, we automatically start to improve the care and support we provide.

But we want everyone with autism to live the lives they choose. To support this, professionals need to have good autism knowledge and understanding, local diagnostic services must be high quality, specialist services should be able to meet needs, and universal services accessible and autism-aware.

Creative training initiatives are not always dependent on large amounts of funding. Sustainable and reflective projects are most successful at responding and adapting to demands over time. The involvement of people with autism in the creation and delivery of workshops embeds expertise. Autism Champion roles developed in services increases sharing of expertise and can offer mentoring support. Online training has a wide, varied reach and is flexible to audience needs.

“We need to put the message out that autism is everyone’s business”

Basic autism awareness raising to improve local knowledge should be dynamic and fluid. Autism websites, dedicated autism pages on host websites and blog links are great as a focus for information dissemination and promotion of news and events. Autism Alert Cards can improve relationships and understanding with emergency services, reducing negative experiences and increasing signposting. 

“We need to be innovative and collaborative”

Where there is a gap between mental health and learning disability services, a large number of people with autism are unable to access services appropriate to their needs. This can be changed through the remit expansion of existing services to include people with autism (ensuring these services are informed about autism and able to provide support), and better identifying the needs of people with autism in service criteria. 

Local diagnostic services should demonstrate clear pathways to diagnosis and improved support for people throughout the diagnosis process. Diagnostic services with a multi-disciplinary team of staff are able to provide a timelier and broader range of support and more widely engage with external services (including transitions and children’s services). These services must be actively publicised to ensure local awareness and which directly increases conviction in the effectiveness of the service. 

Services that also offer a variety of post-diagnostic services give newly-diagnosed adults increased support, which in turn increases their confidence. Post-diagnostic services can include support groups, 1:1 and small group sessions, social skills, family therapy, therapeutic interventions, comprehensive signposting and individual follow up meetings. Where it is not possible to provide these face to face, virtual/online provision is another accessible option. 

“We need to show how good things could be”

Support from, and the acceptance of responsibility by, local leaders makes the difference between simply talking about autism developments and actually making them happen. Investment does not simply mean funding, but also requires engagement with people with autism, parents and carers, and understanding and involvement from key professionals. To improve the care of people with autism there should be an ongoing commitment to support people with autism, and to recognise each for the amazing individual that they are. 

We’d like to thank the National Autistic Society for writing this guest blog. You can learn more about NAS here: www.nas.org.uk

For further information about our work within Autism, please click here