National Autism Project – Progress Report – September/October 2017

Political engagement has been a problem for the project ever since we launched it in 2015 into a period which we fondly imagined would be one of political stability and continuity. Since then of course we have had the Brexit referendum and two General Elections, all with unanticipated outcomes, stalemate in Northern Ireland, and parliamentary comings and goings that have frustrated our efforts to engage parliamentarians at the highest level. But as we have always maintained, progress is not always about changing policy, but often about modifying how policy is put into practice in order to make better use of resources and improve outcomes. We found that civil servants in London were willing to listen to us about the successes and failures of the translation of policy into provision and, while they may not know whom they are serving from one day to the next, at least we have given them something to think and talk about when briefing the next generation of incoming ministers. In this connection, we are pleased that a meeting to exchange views with civil servants in the NI government will go ahead on 28th November, despite the lack of resolution of the their political problems, and we have not yet abandoned hope of similar meetings in Scotland and Wales.

Our Strategy Board meeting on 12th October is reported elsewhere on the website. It focused very much on the future and how the recommendations of the NAP report might be supported after the end of this year, especially in the light of the political situation. Thus, the National Autism Project Forum will meet at intervals to monitor the implement of the recommendations of The Autism Dividend, and will work alongside the National Autistic Taskforce (NAT) whose aims and organisation will become even clearer after the next meeting of the Autistic Advisory Panel on 6th November which will be largely devoted to NAT planning.

On research, our Funders’ Forum on 25th October was aimed perhaps more at policy than at practice, and at the need to increase funding for autism research. As we reported, we aimed to interest some newcomers among research funding bodies to the need for autism research, and to encourage traditional funders in the biomedical field to pay more attention than previously to autism. The strong tradition of bottom-up responsive mode funding left us somewhat dissatisfied. We felt that this approach was not likely to bring about the shift in the amount, quality and direction of autism research that our report had so clearly highlighted as necessary. As NAP draws to a close, we hope that this issue will be taken up by other organisations, including the National Autistic Taskforce.

Our other major event in October was the parliamentary drop in on 24th October. This we could unequivocally claim as a success with over 40 parliamentarians from both Houses dropping in to lend their support to The Autism Agenda. The event was notable for the presence also of the major autism charities (the National Autistic Society, Autistica and the Autism Alliance) and the Westminster Commission on Autism. It will do no harm to the furtherance of the needs of autistic people to show co-operation and common cause between the organisations promoting their wellbeing.

Ian Ragan
November 2017

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