This will be the last of the bimonthly progress reports of the National Autism Project which was essentially drawn to a close at its Farewell Event in the House of Lords on 12th December. But as noted on our home page and in the report of the event, the project lives on in other guises. The most important of these is the National Autistic Taskforce whose purpose and organisation were worked out at NAP’s Autistic Advisory Panel Third Meeting held on 6th November. The latest thinking on NAT was also reported in the speech by Dr Damian Milton at the Farewell Event, whose full text can be read on the new National Autistic Taskforce page of the website. This section of the website also has a briefing document prepared for the Farewell Event and answers to FAQs that explain in more detail how NAT will operate and what it will do.
The NAP Legacy Forum has yet to plan its activities in the New Year but will meet at intervals to review the extent to which the recommendations of the NAP report have been implemented. Political uncertainty, the economic downturn and Brexit obsession have not helped our cause; all the more reason therefore to revisit our contacts in funding and policy organisations to keep the needs of autistic people fresh in their minds.
In connection with the latter, the meetings held in the summer with various government departments in London have still not resulted in reports on our website. Detailed briefs for DH, DWP and DfE were written for these meetings and we have given these departments the opportunity for reply. We appreciate the difficulties they have experienced in putting together formal responses while dealing with new ministerial appointments in the aftermath of the general election, but there has been time enough and we will publish our briefs in the New Year whether we have heard from the departments or not.
We have not forgotten our pledge to make NAP a UK-wide project, and since the launch of the NAP report in Northern Ireland was cancelled because of the political situation at the beginning of 2017, we were very pleased to be able to interest a number of government departments in Stormont in holding a meeting jointly with Autism NI and NAS NI. A briefing document, based on those prepared for the London meetings but highlighting issues of particular relevance to NI, was prepared by Dr Arlene Cassidy (Special Adviser for Policy and Research, Autism NI), and circulated prior to a meeting in Stormont on 28th November. The report of the meeting has been sent to the Department of Health for their comments and will be published in the near future, along with the brief, on the NAP website. We are hopeful that the success of this event will encourage our colleagues in Scotland and Wales to reconsider whether to have similar events with representatives of their devolved governments.
So there is still life in NAP but at a lower level of intensity. We have passed the baton to other organisations in the hope and expectation that the vision of Dame Stephanie Shirley, the generosity of The Shirley Foundation, and the monumental work of Valentina Iemmi and Martin Knapp in producing the NAP report will provide inspiration and guidance in bettering the lives of autistic people for many years to come.