Improving access to social care for adults with autism

The service landscape

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 any mainstream service or support they should opt to use.

And while social care can be hard to access, so too can these other service areas (7). This can mean that some people with autism, worn out by the struggle, access nothing, and so miss out on the chances of cross-referral to other services they need. 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 difficulties faced by people with autism in getting social care need to be considered alongside the problems experienced in accessing work, healthcare, education and money.

The complexity and inaccessibility of the benefits system was a major theme in the research we carried out (7). People with autism can be anxious about applying for, and perhaps being refused, benefits such as Disability Living Allowance, which can fail properly to consider issues facing people with autism. The forms involved can be forbiddingly complicated, and the office spaces that house benefits staff can be bright and noisy (23). Not applying, however, can lead to financial disadvantage.

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

Employment, for those with autism as for most people, can be important in developing self-esteem and ending benefits dependency. Some key points are worth considering:

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 Making services accessible and acceptable - commissioners, we described some of the main housing needs of people with autism. However, because many people with autism 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.  

In the education field, 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 (25), but quiet periods in the Freshers' Fair and web-based courses are examples of reasonable adjustments that can be made. Others include:

As social care opens itself up to people with high-functioning autism and Asperger's Syndrome more, links with the higher education sector are likely to grow.