Specialist autism services

There is an argument that if mainstream services improved their ability to meet the needs of people with autism, then specialist services wouldn’t be needed. ‘Think autism’ [19] and its attendant guidance,[20] along with the action plan for Northern Ireland,[28] with their focus on raising awareness across services, aim to make all services better for people with autism. But there needs to be a balance, and offering mainstream services must not be done simply to reduce costs.[53]

Whether specialist services are in place will depend on local need and commissioning priorities. But the guidance [21] stresses that specialist services have a ‘pivotal role’ in improving outcomes for people with autism. Specialist services, especially multidisciplinary ones, do seem to hold out the promise of better outcomes,[10] and ‘Think autism’ continues to promote autism-specific bodies for the delivery of services, such as specialist autism teams and autism partnership boards.[20] This message is also stressed in the action plan for Northern Ireland.[28]

A National Audit Office study [35] showed that specialist teams can improve outcomes, and have the potential to save significant sums of money. For example, specialist help for supported employment for autistic adults can lead not only to long-term cost savings, but ‘individual gains in social integration and well-being’.[54] It is worth noting that if no specialist autism care management team is in place, then it is for each local social services area to provide clarity as to which team will take on the support for people with autism who have no attendant learning disability or mental health problem.

Further reading