The Autism (Amendment) Act was passed on Monday 7th March 2022 at the NI Assembly with unanimous cross-party support and Autism NI was at the forefront of this critical piece of legislation. 

The new Private Member’s Bill was sponsored by Pam Cameron MLA and is currently the most comprehensive piece of single disability legislation within the United Kingdom.

The Autism (Amendment) Act altered the original Autism Act of 2011, through strengthening the legislative requirements of the NI Executive.

Some of the changes that the Autism (Amendment) Act will introduce is the creation of an autism information service and a cross departmental autism training strategy. There will also be a requirement for the Department of Health to make provision for a regionally consistent adult autism service and early intervention service throughout Northern Ireland.

Read the Autism (Amendment) Act 2022

What does the new Autism (Amendment) Act 2022 mean?

Here is a reminder of the main points of the new Autism (Amendment) Act:

  • Development of a regional early intervention service
  • Development of regional adult support services
  • Development of a regional autism information service
  • Development of an autism training strategy
  • Data collection to include prevalence of adults and children
  • The introduction of an annual budget report on autism
  • An independent scrutiny body to oversee implementation
  • An NI Autism Strategy to be developed in consultation with the autistic community.

Hansard Reports

Autism NI presented to the Health Committee and the Education Committee when lobbying for the Autism (Amendment) Act before it was successfully passed in March 2022. You can find the Hansard reports on our Campaign Work page.

See the reports

Autism Act (NI) 2011

The Autism Act (NI) 2011 is the result of a 5-year lobby partnership led by Autism NI and the Parents Autism Lobby, working alongside the All Party Group on Autism at the NI Assembly and supported by the wider autistic community.  At the time this legislation surpassed the English Autism Act (2010) as the most comprehensive and progressive legislation for autism across the UK and Ireland.  With the addition of the new Autism (Amendment) Act in 2022, this landmark piece of legislation has been strengthened even more.

Actions established by the Autism Act (NI) 2011

The Autism Act (NI) 2011:

  • Changes the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) definition of disability.
  • Entitlement to services will no longer be measured solely by intellectual (IQ) or physical (“can he walk from A to B?”) ability.
  • Access to services and benefits will now also be on the basis of the level of social and communication impairment and function, previously DLA was disallowed because autism did not clearly fit within the protection and definition of the DDA, this is no longer the case
  • Places a duty on the Department of Health & Social Security (DHSSPS) to act as the lead government agency in producing, reviewing and implementing a cross department strategy for autism. 
  • Places a duty on all government departments to agree a data collection system to calculate current and future need for services for people with autism and their families for future planning. Currently, data collection is largely an internal process that is service or department specific and not suitable of general planning.
  • Places a duty upon DHSSPS to clearly detail how the needs of families and carers is to be addressed. This is a clear directive towards family support service development.
  • Places a duty upon government to implement an effective autism awareness campaign strategy.

The Autism Act (NI) 2011 and Autism (Amendment) Act of 2022 are tools to be used by the autistic community and government departments to prioritise, access services and improve planning in an era of economic restraint. The legislation gives a legal basis for recognition and understanding of autism as a social and communication disability. This legal standing is more permanent than any policy, regulation or departmental strategy which can be overturned as government Ministers move on. The legislation is a vital stepping stone to achieving the equality, recognition and services so long denied to autistic people as a result of the well documented legacy of neglect and underinvestment.

Read the Autism Act (NI) 2011

Historic Debates and Research Papers

Other historic debates and research papers can be downloaded below.

NI Autism Strategy

With the introduction of the Autism Act (NI) 2011 and the passing of the Autism (Amendment) Act in 2022, the Department of Health has a responsibility to publish an Autism Strategy for Northern Ireland. The latest Autism Strategy 2023-2028 was published in December 2023.

Download the NI Autism Strategy