The Autism Strategy: implications for
people with autism and for service
Nick Walsh and Ian Hall
Purpose – The aim of this article is to critically review the Autism Strategy and to discuss its implications.
Design/methodology/approach – This is a summary and critical review of the Autism Strategy and its
implementation. This includes discussion of the political context, reactions to the strategy by
stakeholders, economic considerations, equity, integration across health and social care and the role of
diagnostic services and specialist interventions.
Findings – The Autism Strategy Fulﬁlling and Rewarding Lives was published in 2010. It aimed to
increase awareness of autism, establish clear pathways for diagnosis and needs assessment, promote
independent living and access to work, and help the development of local services. It focuses on
intended outcomes, is not prescriptive about how those aims are achieved, and relies on existing
legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act. The emphasis on accessing mainstream services
may limit the development of appropriate specialist services, especially in the current economic climate.
Specialist interventions that may follow diagnosis are not prioritised, even though the economic case for
them has been well made by the Audit Commission. Although the Department of Health has produced
‘‘outcomes and ambitions’’ to measure implementation of the Strategy, local authorities are not required
to measure themselves against these targets or publish their results. However, organisations such as the
National Autistic Society have already developed training materials to help with implementation, and the
NICE guidelines for adults with autism due in 2012 may help the development of better services.
Originality/value – This article provides new insights into the implications of the strategy for service
users, service managers and healthcare professionals. Although the strategy applies to England only,
the principles are of interest to stakeholders in other countries.
Keywords Autism, Health policy, Service development, Health services, United Kingdom
Paper type General review
The Autism Act 2009 was the ﬁrst piece of legislation which addressed the needs of people
with a speciﬁc condition. The Act committed the government to ensuring that the needs of
adults with autism (autistic spectrum disorders) were speciﬁcally addressed across public
services. Fulﬁlling and Rewarding Lives (Department of Health, 2010a), was the then Labour
government’s response to the 2009 Act and laid out a three year strategy to begin the process
of changing public services. The statutory implementation guidance (Department of Health,
2010e) was published by the subsequent Coalition government. This places
greater emphasis upon local arrangements, third sector organisations, the ‘‘Big Society’’
(Conservative Party, 2010) and refers to the planned reorganisation of the NHS in England
(Department of Health, 2010c). In this article we will review the autism strategy and consider
its implications for people with autism as well as for health and social care services in England.
The Autism Strategy
All adults with autism are able to live fulﬁlling and rewarding lives within a society that accepts and
understands them. They can get a diagnosis and access support if they need it, and they can
DOI 10.1108/20441281211227166 VOL. 6 NO. 3 2012, pp. 113-120, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2044-1282
ADVANCES IN MENTAL HEALTH AND INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES
Nick Walsh and Ian Hall are
based at East London NHS