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Blog Jon Rouse


Think Autism - think community

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Adult Autism Strategy

Where do we truly measure the success or failure of our health and care policies? Not in Westminster boardrooms - not with graphs, charts and number-crunchers - but in the real world, with the people and communities they are designed to serve.

Think Autism – our cross-government update to the 2010 Adult Autism Strategy – has been created, in no small part, with the support of people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome and the local service providers tasked with serving them. The update includes fifteen priority challenges for action. It deliberately adopts a strengths-based approach, asking how we can help people with autism fulfil their own ambitions and potential, removing the barriers that too often get in the way.

In particular, the revised strategy has a new focus on developing local communities that are more aware of - and accessible to - the needs of people with autism, helping them promote innovative ideas, services or projects for local people and establishing how advice and information services can be better joined up.

As ever, it is our local partners tasked with delivering these services. The challenge is to find new, creative and cost effective ways to do so at a time of financial constraint. This means looking beyond statutory services and taking inspiration from initiatives like the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge – where innovation and community building are drivers for effective service and support.

The launch of the Autism Innovation Fund, part of a £4.5 million funding package blending revenue and capital, is designed to further encourage innovative service models. Crisis prevention, advice and information services, and other ‘one stop shops’ for those living with autism, their family and friends, are the kind of local offers I hope we’ll see more of.

Think Autism includes a number of case studies illustrating what is possible. Matthew’s Hub, a service offered by Hull based charity FIND (Families for Individual Needs and Dignity) provides access to social networking, volunteering, work experience and advocacy for individuals with high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome. What makes this service so impressive is its acceptance of referrals from GPs, social services - and even direct approaches from individuals and their families – where no formal diagnosis has been made. I would be delighted to see this kind of flexibility and inclusivity replicated elsewhere – it makes sense for such a complex and nuanced condition as autism.

Each area will of course need to identify priorities based on local needs. We will be encouraging Health and Wellbeing boards to provide each locality with the information and tools needed to make those determinations. The Autism Statutory Guidance should already be concentrating minds within local authorities, NHS bodies and foundation trusts. We will be issuing new guidance later in the year following a public consultation.

What is important is to make sure all of us working in this sector properly engage - and involve - people with autism. The more we understand their needs, the better we can deploy resources and services to support them and improve their health – and life - outcomes. With more than 500,000 people identified as being on the autism spectrum in England, this is not a fringe exercise, but an opportunity to build supportive communities throughout the country. How as a nation can we afford to waste this amount of economic and civic potential? We can’t. And of course the same community asset-based approach can be adapted to serve other prevalent conditions. Such an aspiration speaks to the wider integration agenda – but that’s another discussion for another blog!

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