The last meeting of the Autistic Advisory Panel (AAP) in its current form took place on Monday 6 November 2017. As was announced at the Strategy Board meeting in October the important and powerful role played by the AAP in informing and shaping the NAP project is to become part of the NAP legacy as the AAP transforms into the National Autistic Taskforce (NAT) sponsored by The Shirley Foundation. So the focus of this final AAP meeting was the aims, structure and administration of NAT with Dinah Murray opening the discussion by saying how grateful and honoured she was that Dame Stephanie Shirley had trusted and sponsored NAT without a prior plan and that she would be reporting to her once the objectives and structure are clear.
It was agreed that the overall aim of NAT was to give a voice to and improve the wellbeing of the ‘other half’: those autistic people who are most disadvantaged because of their inability to articulate and advocate for their own needs, and who are often found in long term care or within the criminal justice system. Damian Milton identified the three key areas of focus of NAT as 1) research, data and evidence; 2) policy and legal matters; and 3) practice (which is what changes lives). He noted that these should be linked to the NAP recommendations, would build on current work and partnerships, seek out gaps and levers, and be interdisciplinary (perhaps through a Community of Practice).
In discussion it was noted that most support effort is currently in childhood and education whereas the impact of NAT would primarily be on practice for adults but with a link back to childhood through a preventative emphasis. It was agreed that NAT should therefore cover the lifespan but with a focus on adults. In order to engage widely with the autistic community NAT will do most of its work through a series of working groups (GNATs) each with a small and flexible membership. Funding and sustainability could be a separate GNAT or part of the responsibilities of the core group (largely the former AAP) and it was noted that NAT might be able to generate income from training and consultancy downstream.
There was a general discussion on how to prioritise social research and action through NAT. It was suggested that in order to give social research the gravitas it needs, one thing NAT could usefully do is to produce models of what a good social research grant application and project look like, using the NAP report as a key source, in order to raise the standard of grant applications. It was suggested that NAT could work with Autistica on prioritising medical research.
It was agreed that the core NAT group should aim to meet on-line in mid-January to finalise the structural and administrative arrangements discussed, and the meeting ended with a vote of thanks to Dinah Murray for sponsoring and organising the Autistic Advisory Panel, and what this has led to.