The government has resisted calls to require councils and the NHS to establish specialist autism teams to support adults with the condition in England’s first strategy for the client group, published today.
The strategy, underpinned by the Autism Act 2009, is intended to enhance the lives of adults with autism by improving diagnosis and access to services, including social care and tackling social exclusion and unemployment.
The National Autistic Society has led calls for the introduction of specialist local teams to provide local expertise, diagnosis and low-level support, improve access to mainstream services and train other frontline staff.
The strategy, Fulfilled and Rewarding Lives, acknowledges that, in most areas, autism services are provided by learning disability or mental health teams and exclude many people from support, and suggests specialist teams could help build capacity in autism services.
However, it does not make them a requirement.
Care services minister Phil Hope said: “We’ve seen different models in different areas. There’s work to be done to assess which is the most cost effective and efficiency effective.”
He said statutory guidance for health and social care services due in December would discuss the business case for introducing specialist teams and encourage areas to look at the role they can play.
But he added: “I don’t think we should impose on an area a one-size-fits-all approach.”
The strategy is backed by £500,000 for staff training.
Council and NHS performance will be measured against a first-year delivery plan, due later this month.
The Department of Health will set up a national autism programme board, co-chaired by the care services minister and the director-general of social care, David Behan.
Hope added: “This strategy puts more momentum into tackling social exclusion among adults with autism alongside other work, including new National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence clinical guidance and research.”
The NAS welcomed the strategy as the “first step to ensuring adults with autism will be able to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as the rest of society”.
Despite the lack of a requirement to set up specialist teams, its chief executive, Mark Lever, said: “Crucially, the strategy recognises the importance of specialist autism teams which we know are extremely successful at driving improvements in autism support. So now the next step will be to translate the strategy into decisive action at a local level – this momentous opportunity to transform the lives of people with autism and their families must not be wasted.”
However, Dimensions, the country’s biggest adult autism support provider, expressed disappointment. Director of specialist development Lisa Hopkins said the strategy was a “positive step forward”, but added: “Given the current gaps in support, we are extremely disappointed by the lack of provision for local specialist autism teams and local planning groups. These are an absolute priority if the needs of the one in 100 people affected by autism in the UK are to be met. Without them, adults with autism will continue to be overlooked.”
● A national autism programme board to lead change in public services.
● A programme to develop training with health and social care professional bodies backed by £500,000.
● Autism awareness training for all Jobcentre Plus disability employment advisers.
● Guidance on making public services such as transport accessible for adults with autism.
● A clear, consistent pathway for diagnosis.
● Councils to consider appointing a lead professional to develop diagnostic and assessment services for adults with autism.