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Supporting people with autism through adulthood

The National Audit Office has reported today that Government departments and local health and social care organisations do not have enough information on numbers of adults with autism. They also lack a full understanding and awareness of the condition, limiting their ability to plan and deliver services effectively.

Autism, which includes Asperger syndrome, is a lifelong condition which affects the way in which people interact with the world around them. It is estimated that there are around 400,000 adults with autism in England, many of whom may require specialised support. Yet the NAO found that most NHS organisations and local authorities do not know how many people with autism there are in the areas they serve, and three quarters of local authorities do not have a specific commissioning strategy for adults with autism.

GPs and social care staff have low awareness of autism and how to diagnose it, with 80 per cent of GPs surveyed reporting that they need additional guidance and training in order to identify and treat patients with autism more effectively.

Around 200,000 adults with autism do not have a learning disability. This group often fails to secure appropriate support, as health and social care services are traditionally configured for people with a learning disability, a physical illness or disability, or a mental health problem (which autism is not). Three quarters of local authorities said adults with autism who do not meet eligibility criteria experience or report difficulties accessing the services they require. Almost two thirds felt that current services for adults with autism are limited. Providing specialised support could improve outcomes for this group of people and their carers, and potentially enhance value for money, as the costs of establishing such support could be outweighed over time by overall savings.

There are few specialised employment support services for people with autism. A lack of understanding of autism is a significant barrier to gaining employment and more training is needed for those delivering employment support and those administering benefits.

"Greater awareness of the numbers of people with autism, as well as better understanding of autism amongst those providing health, social care, benefits, education and employment services, would lead to improved quality of life for those on the autistic spectrum. Specialist support and joint working across all areas – clinical, social and employment – could improve the transition from childhood to adult services, make services more effective and improve value for money."

 

The Comptroller and Auditor General

Notes for Editors

  1. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability, whose causes are not well understood. It is estimated that there are around 400,000 adults with autism in England. Some people with autism also have a learning disability, sometimes known as "low-functioning" autism. Around half of people are of normal or above average I.Q., known as "high-functioning" autism, which includes Asperger syndrome.
  2. Recent estimates suggest that around 15 per cent of adults with autism are in full-time employment.
  3. The NAO report focuses on services for adults rather than children because children’s services are currently more developed than those for adults, and have also been examined in depth in other recent investigations such as The Bercow Review.
  4. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  5. The Comptroller and Auditor General is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 900 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources. This report has been made by Tim Burr, who was C&AG until 31 May 2009. He was succeeded by Amyas Morse on 1 June 2009.

PN: 36/09