Government announce new five-year strategy to help improve the lives of autistic people

A new Government strategy which includes faster diagnoses and better access to health and social care for autistic people is set to be launched.

The aim is to try and create a society that “truly understands and includes autistic people in all aspects of life”, according to Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

The Government says its five-year strategy is backed by nearly £75 million in the first year – and the funding includes £40 million through the NHS Long Term Plan to improve capacity in crisis services and support children with complex needs in inpatient care.

Mr Javid said: “It will reduce diagnosis waiting times for children and adults and improve community support for autistic people. This is crucial in reducing the health inequalities they face, and the unacceptable life expectancy gap that exists today.”

Efforts to support autistic people by providing them with better access to education, more help to get into work, preventing avoidable admissions to healthcare settings, and training for prison staff to better support prisoners with complex needs are also among the strategy’s aims.

The scheme, which is set to run until 2026, was developed after talks with some of the approximately 700,000 autistic people in the UK, their families and carers.

In an effort to improve public understanding and inclusion of autism, Government Ministers and policy makers will be encouraged to undertake the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism’s ‘Understanding Autism’ sessions.

A focus will also be placed on increasing recognition and representation of neurodiversity across Government departments.

Schools and colleges throughout England will also receive funding towards staff autism training and professional development, while a special anti-bullying programme aimed at improving autism inclusion is expected to begin in September.

It comes as the Covid-19 pandemic increases the challenges faced by many autistic people – such as loneliness, social isolation and anxiety.

The life expectancy gap for autistic people is approximately 16 years on average compared to the general population, and almost 80% of autistic adults experience mental health problems during their lifetime, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Early identification can help children and young people to get timely support, which is crucial in preventing an escalation of needs.

National Autistic Society chief executive Caroline Stevens was pleased that trying to reduce waiting times for the “potentially life changing” diagnosis times and providing better post-diagnostic support was among the commitments in the first year of the new strategy.

Ms Stevens said: “The following four years will be just as vital. It’s crucial that the Government invest in autistic people, and finally create a society that really works for autistic children, adults and their families.”

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