Content of the Autism Bill

1.  The Autism Bill will amend the existing Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) definition of disability....inserting the words “social (including communication)” to ensure that ASD is included.

 Impact of Bill -  

  • Practically, for public bodies using the DDA definition of disability as guidance for decision making and guidance, this will provide clarity e.g.:-
    • There is evidence of this outdated guidance being used regarding Disability Living Allowance decisions.
    • There is evidence that school discipline codes are resulting in some pupils with ASD being punished for behavioural reactions that are beyond their control.
    • Profoundly, for families this measure will give recognition to a challenging condition that has been low in the hierarchy of disability within our society. It has the potential, when implemented across public bodies, of improving public understanding and issues such as access to services and buildings for individuals with ASD. Significantly, it will signal the beginning of the end of discrimination against individuals with ASD with an IQ over 70.
  • For families……the Bill therefore (by giving recognition in law to ASD) will make a practical and emotional difference through..........

-          The systematic education of the public that will flow from the adaptations to public spaces and facilities

-          The emotional hook of ASD being recognised in law brings a level of validity regarding a condition that is still treated with suspicion and ignorance by some professionals and agencies.

-          The practical benefit of clarity in law to guide decision making regarding benefit entitlement, updating of Disability Action Plans for public bodies and improved access to equality legislation.

-          Families will have a reference point regarding service entitlement e.g. services for people with an assessed 70+ IQ level.

-          The physical (visual and sensory) adaptations to public buildings etc will assist not only people with ASD but the wider disability community.

2.  The Autism Bill will direct the establishment of a cross departmental approach towards ASD by requiring the development of a cross departmental (or government) strategy for Autism.

Impact of Bill -

  • The historic failure to recognise ASD has resulted in a particularly tragic legacy of underfunding across government departments and as the amendment to the DDA takes effect, all departments will inevitably have to address the impact of legislative change to their policies, practice and provision.
  • This clause in the Bill creates the ‘must’ requirement to undertake that exercise together in an effort to minimise duplication and maximise effectiveness.

One would presume that there is wide consensus in the view that the development of single department ASD strategies by Health and more recently Education is in sharp contrast to the joined up realities of life as one transition leads to another across home, education/employment and the community.

  • In this climate of economic constraint it is incumbent upon us all to plan smartly for future challenges. So not only is cross departmental commitment to joint planning for ASD good practice, it is also an opportunity to look afresh at the resources we have and how they can be used or re deployed while at the same time challenging all government departments to work innovatively with the Voluntary Sector to maximise the accountability, flexibility and creativity of all Sectors.
  • For families……the Bill (by giving recognition in law to the need for required cross departmental planning and buy in and synchronicity) will make a real difference too...........

-          This measure assures families that government recognises the lifelong and whole life reality of ASD.

-          This measure gives assurance of the potential of service development in harsh economic times through shared funding initiatives across departments.

-          That ASD is a shared responsibility within our community.

-          That duplication and confusion can be addressed.

-          That transitions (uniquely distressing for individuals with Autism) can be better planned and resourced.