The service landscape in autism

Joint working is important, because for people with autism, social care is just one part of a wider service landscape. They also need health services, housing, jobs and benefits, as well as access to mainstream services or support.

While social care can be hard to access, so too can these other service areas.[13] This can mean that some people with autism access nothing, and so miss out on the chances of cross-referral to other services. They risk, therefore, living lives that are really constrained, because they are denied access to work, vital health services, social contact and a decent place to live.

The complexity and inaccessibility of the benefits system was a major theme in our research.[13] People with autism can be anxious about applying for, and perhaps being refused, benefits. The forms involved can be forbiddingly complicated, and the office spaces that house benefits staff can be bright and noisy.[13, 35] Not applying, however, can lead to financial disadvantage.

Healthcare

It can also be hard for people with autism to access healthcare, for a number of reasons:

Employment

Employment, for those with autism, as for most people, can be important in developing self-esteem and promoting independence. In an English study following the implementation of the Adult Autism Strategy 2009 and the Equality Act 2010, the researchers found that barriers to employment still included a lack of reasonable adjustments and a lack of understanding about autism from employers.[55] Some key points are worth considering.

Housing

Getting the right housing, and the right support that comes with it, can also be key for many people with autism. In the subsection entitled ‘Commissioners’, we described some of the main housing needs of people with autism. However, because many such people are not considered eligible for social care support, they often live with families, or in general needs public housing. Mainstream housing providers should therefore develop their own awareness of and competence in autism, to ensure, for example, that people with autism can access advice on paying the rent or dealing with neighbours.

Education

Universities and colleges are making some progress in catering for people with autism. The Disabled Students’ Allowance, for instance, can be used to fund social as well as academic support. Many universities and colleges remain a challenge for people with autism, because of the novelty and variety of the environment,[2, 56] but quiet periods in events such as the fresher’s fair and web-based courses are examples of reasonable adjustments that can be made, and there are some colleges with a focus on providing a balanced environment for people with severe autism and learning difficulties. Other potential adjustments include:

As social care opens itself up to people with high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome, links with the higher education sector are likely to grow as support improves.