The fifth meeting of the NAP Strategy Board met on April 6th in Oxford. It was an occasion to celebrate the publication of “The Autism Dividend: Reaping the Rewards of Better Investment” and to reflect on the feedback we have received which has been overwhelmingly positive. However, the main purpose of the meeting was to plan how to use the report over the remaining months of the project in order to maximise its impact on policy and research.
We intend to hold a meeting for research funders later in the year to draw their attention to the research gaps identified in the report. The meeting will bring together research councils, charities and relevant government departments covering both biomedical and social research. Perhaps a meeting of different sectors will foster a better appreciation of the research needs across such a broad range of issues. We hope also to arouse the interest of some funders not previously associated with autism research to understand the needs of the autistic community and to consider addressing some of these research gaps.
The Board also supported the idea of continuing to work in all four of the devolved nations of the UK and proposed a round of meetings, targeted at policy makers in the devolved governments, and organised in conjunction with national charities. The idea of an all-Ireland meeting was particularly welcomed. For England, this will take the form of meetings with the Departments of Health, Education, and Work and Pensions which between them carry responsibility for policy decisions that most affect the lives of autistic people in England. The priorities presented at these meetings will take into consideration not only the findings of the report, but also the views of the major autism charities. In addition, we will use parliamentary questions to bring major issues to the attention of government.
These organised meetings will be the mainstay of our work for the rest of the year and the Board will meet for the last time in October to reflect on progress and the impact of these efforts. We also plan to have a last meeting of the Autistic Advisory Panel at some point to consider the successes of the project from their perspectives. At the end of the year we will have a celebratory event in which we will do our best to extract promises from our colleagues elsewhere that they will continue to campaign for The Autism Dividend after the National Autism Project has ended.