The UK’s failure to base support for autistic people on the best available evidence comes at an unacceptable human and unsustainable financial cost. The challenges are exacerbated by the limited investment in research to fill the many gaps in that evidence. Implementing practices of proven value and increasing investment in research will improve outcomes for autistic people with less waste of scarce resources.
These are the main conclusions of our report, the most comprehensive on current autism practice ever undertaken in the UK. The report is endorsed by leading charities and experts in the field, and calls for more to be done to shape policy and improve practice in autism.
The title of the report, The Autism Dividend: Reaping the Rewards of Better Investment, encapsulates our view that concerted action to address this failure (as set out in a series of policy and research recommendations) will result in better outcomes for autistic people, and in a more cost-effective way.
The high economic impact of autism in the UK (currently £32 billion per annum) has been known for a decade. Some of this cost is both necessary and desirable, contributing positively to the quality of life of autistic people. However, some of this cost results from inappropriate use of scarce resources, inadequate training, lack of knowledge, missed opportunities and avoidable crises, poor co-ordination of services and desperate attempts to remedy past failures of care.
The reality is that poor support for autistic people results in poor choices, leading in turn to poorer outcomes – and the impacts on autistic people and their families can be highly damaging. Autistic people are more likely to be excluded from schools, suffer poor healthcare and have a high risk of premature death. In addition, only 16 percent of diagnosed autistic adults in England are in full-time employment, and two-thirds are not working at all.
Lack of knowledge about the most effective and cost-effective practices in autism is a major contributor to the current state of affairs. More and better research is urgently needed. However, current investment of just £4 million per annum is totally inadequate and unacceptably low compared with other high-impact conditions and by international standards.
We are calling for national governments to implement our recommendations on evidence-based practice, and for research funders to commit to a substantial increase in autism research spending focused on building a stronger evidence base on what works. Without this uplift, the UK will struggle to meet the needs of the autistic community and will not make the best use of public and private resources invested in trying to improve the lives of individual autistic people. It will also be impossible to bring down the annual £32 billion cost of autism to the economy in the longer term.