Think Autism is clear: rather than producing a replacement for the 2010 Autism Strategy it maintains the requirements in that strategy and builds on a vision towards equal opportunities for individuals across the autistic spectrum.  It promotes the view that autism should not be a disqualifier in accessing life’s opportunities while recognising that people with autism may need support in an area of their lives to equally access them. 

This is a good example of how one size does not fit all and that people across the length and breadth of the spectrum need to be recognised as the individuals they are including the recognition of their strengths and personal coping mechanisms. 

Understanding how autism influences someone’s life is important - none less so when they have additional needs, such as a learning disability, serious mental health issues or physical health needs. Recognising how they co-exist is important when supporting someone to manage their needs successfully.  Recognition of gender, race, and sexuality are also important when, for example, considering how best to support a woman with autism bringing up a child who requires reasonable adjustments in parenting support; engaging with children’s services, and considering the cultural and religious beliefs in relation to raising awareness of autism within local communities.

While the Autism Strategy does rely on local authorities and NHS bodies leading on implementing the statutory guidance and the Autism Act provisions, it is recognised that the reach of autism is far and wide. So Think Autism and the new statutory guidance consultation focuses further on the need to have a partnership approach in leading and shaping the solutions in their local areas.

Capacity and resource pressures can place local areas in a difficult position when addressing competing demands within a changing landscape of policy and infrastructure with a risk of being inconsistently applied. Therefore understanding demand and developing a sustainable approach by working in partnership, informing a culture of inclusion, independence and proactively supporting people to access life’s opportunities can only help shape culture change, and inform the demand for services in years to come.

The statutory guidance is now out for consultation, and it is important that everyone considers their part in responding. The Guidance is intended to provide local authorities and NHS bodies (as defined under section 4 of the Autism Act 2009) and Foundation Trusts with the information they need about how they should meet their legal obligations.

The aim is to

* IMPROVE the way health and social care services identify the needs of adults with autism,

* ENSURE that identified needs are met more effectively,

* ENABLE more equitable access to opportunities.

Fundamentally we all aim to deliver tangible improvements in services and to support people with autism, enabling them to live fulfilled and rewarding lives. I recently presented at a Think Autism event where it was evident the commitment to autism and the agenda was clear, but all too often things get in the way, preventing people and organisations from working effectively with each other.

I reflected on how we all need to keep moving forward in our thinking and what can be achieved in order to evolve. I have been working in and supporting this agenda since the 1990s and am keen to consider what is possible, challenge my more traditional thinking to ensure that I am not restricted by my own previous approach or views. 

I believe it is a critical time for building greater opportunities for people and reducing a feeling of dependency on statutory services, while ensuring that they are there when needed.  The national Autism Awareness Campaign delivered by Autism Alliance can help us broaden the understanding and the opportunities available for people on the autistic spectrum and can be used to our benefit to help facilitate change on a local level.

Capital grants support innovative local projects and approaches in developing more autism-friendly communities; raising awareness; building  momentum and providing an opportunity to share ideas and learning across the country, including learning from the 42 projects that are receiving a share of the £1 million Autism Innovation Fund.  

One such initiative includes considering how reasonable adjustments can be applied for the benefit of the wider local population to access primary services, to visit their GP or hospital, confident that they are aware of their autism and what it means for them. Enabling people to have greater opportunities in accessing their local communities and feel safe doing so is vitally important.

Aligning with other key programmes of work is important for local areas who want to minimise duplication, such as the consideration of autism across partnerships and its links to Care Act Implementation. This should involve adults in care and support assessment, planning, and review. Providing accessible information about what support is available locally with a focus on prevention could include the local diagnosis pathway.

Links to the Children and Families Act 2014 children’s departments within local authorities to include autism within the local offer that details the education, training, children’s and young people’s services that people can expect to be available in their areas -  including young people with complex needs within the implementation, and preparing young people for adulthood.

Transforming care and the Autism Strategy again dovetails specifically for those people with a learning disability.  Where it would be reasonable to expect that the life priorities identified within Think Autism would apply to people with autism and a learning disability and the expectation that a hospital is not a home, with hospital admissions prevented by a considered personalised least restrictive approach can apply to all to people on the autistic spectrum.

I urge you to share your views of the Statutory Guidance. It focuses on the key issues of:

* Staff training,

* Identification and diagnosis in adults,

* Planning of services,

* Preventative support,

* Safeguarding,

* Supporting those moving from children’s services to adult services,

* Employment for adults with autism, and

* Working with the criminal justice system.

The consultation closes on December 19 I hope that Think Autism and the Statutory Guidance both transpire to keep the person at their hearts, and recognise the impact autism has on individual’s lives, so that we can be informed about how we can go about our work in the true sense of personalisation in partnership.

Zandrea Stewart is ADASS lead on autism