Improving access to social care for adults with autism

The policy context in Northern Ireland

There have been recent developments in responding to the needs of people with autism in Northern Ireland. An Independent Review of Autism Services was undertaken during 2007. It reported that, while some improvements had been made regionally for children and young people with autism, further work was required to develop services for adolescents and adults.

Recommendations from the review resulted in additional resources being secured by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) to develop health and social care provision for autism, and the development of the DHSSPS' Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) strategic action plan 2008/09 – 2010/11' (15). The action plan was also informed by other reviews, including the Bamford'Autistic spectrum disorders' recommendations (16), the Bamford 'Equal lives' report (24) and 'Families matter: Supporting families in Northern Ireland' (18).

The plan highlights the need for a person-centred and whole-life approach to effective provision of health and social care services, which include the statutory, private, voluntary and community sectors. It is linked to a care pathway approach, which is designed to enhance early recognition, integrated assessment, diagnosis, evidence-based interventions and ongoing support.

The action plan is organised around five key themes:

A multi-disciplinary Regional Autistic Spectrum Disorder Network group was set up to take forward and implement the action plan, and commenced work in April 2009. It is linked to the broader implementation of 'Delivering the Bamford vision' (19). Autism sub-groups have been established to take forward a range of workstreams, and developments will be informed by the evidence base of good practice for diagnosis, assessment and service provision.

A range of developments have been identified and include:

The Autism Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, implemented in May 2011, primarily covers two areas for development. First, the Act requires changes to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to include people with autism. The definition of disability will be amended so that criteria for measuring disability will include 'taking part in normal social interaction; or forming social relationships', thereby promoting access to services and benefits. Second, the Act requires the Northern Ireland government to implement a cross-departmental autism strategy (led by the DHSSPS), which outlines how the health, educational and social needs of people with autism will be addressed across the lifespan. It must also set out how families' and carers' needs will be addressed, and develop an autism awareness campaign.

Further reading