March and April were largely devoted to planning our strategy for the last year of the National Autism Project. As explained in the report of the April Strategy Board meeting, there are several strands to our activities. Building on the invitation from David Mowat MP to discuss our recommendations with officials from the Department of Health, we have extended this idea to the other government departments most involved in service provision for autistic people in England, the Department for Education and the Department of Work and Pensions. Dates for these meetings have now been set and we are busy taking the recommendations from the report, deciding on the priorities and translating these into specific requests to be made to each department. This turned out not to be a simple task and we are grateful for input from the National Autistic Society and Autistica. We asked them to give us their own ideas on priorities for policy or research so that we could present our arguments to the government departments as a consensus of views. We will be putting shortened versions of these departmental briefs on the website at some point.
Needless to say, our plans and timetables have had to be adjusted because of the general election and these departmental meetings will now be held in July and August, rather later than we had envisaged. Proposals for parliamentary questions are also on hold. However, one-to-one meetings with professional bodies, research funders and charities can still go ahead.
One promise from our report was to invite essays for the website on the future that the authors would like to see if the recommendations of The Autism Dividend were adopted. There has been a very good response from our initial invitees and the first article by Dame Steve Shirley is now available. We hope that this will become a popular means of spreading the messages of the report and that people will respond with comments.
We have not forgotten our other commitment to ensure that the project involved all four nations of the UK. There are so many common issues: creating an autism identity, separate from learning disability or mental health, within service sectors; training of professionals in health, education and social services to understand better the needs of autistic people; navigating benefits and employment services. The briefs we are preparing for government departments in England will serve as useful templates for similar approaches to the devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We hope to have the help of the major charities in tailoring our requests to the particular needs of autistic people in these nations, and in setting up meetings with the right government officials.