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Landmark UK Autism Law

  • Published: 2009-11-13 : Author: The National Autistic Society
  • Synopsis: The Autism Bill will receive Royal Assent today making it the Autism Act.

The Autism Bill will receive Royal Assent today making it the Autism Act: England's first ever disability-specific law.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) heralded the new law as "groundbreaking" and said health and social care services could now face legal action if they failed to provide support for people with the condition, which affects over half a million people in the UK.

The Autism Act started out as a Private Members' Bill drafted by the NAS, following consultation with adults with autism, and on behalf of a coalition of autism charities. It was championed through Parliament by Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan and received support from all parties.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said; "Thousands of adults with autism told us they were experiencing serious mental health difficulties due to a lack of support. After a year of lobbying, this is the watershed moment they have been waiting for - the Autism Act could literally transform lives. It will add serious weight to the forthcoming adult autism strategy so now we'll be keeping the pressure up on Government to make sure they get it right and deliver lasting change for people with this serious, lifelong and disabling condition."

Under the Autism Act the Government's forthcoming adult autism strategy will be legally enforceable and must be published within the next six months. New responsibilities the NHS and local authorities will be expected to fulfill will include providing diagnostic services for adults with autism and better training for health and social care staff.

Chris Goodchild, 43, was diagnosed with autism around 18 months ago. He said; "The Autism Act could make an enormous difference to adults with autism like me. All my life I have been different, but I didn't know why. I was institutionalized as a teenager and wrongly treated for schizophrenia. As an adult I have also seen various different professionals none of whom recognized my autism. I reached such a low point with anxiety and depression that I did not want to go on living - my eventual diagnosis saved my life."

The NAS is also calling for the adult autism strategy to tackle the woeful number of people with autism in employment. New research for the charity's Don't write me off campaign found that a third of people with autism - that's over 100,000 - currently live without a job and worryingly without benefits.

Cheryl Gillan MP said; "I'd like to thank everyone for their support. It is extremely rare that a Private Members' Bill goes on to become law, so this is a triumph for people with autism and their families. It's a real testament to the overwhelming level of parliamentary support for this chronically excluded group. I hope it will make the crucial difference in their lives that people with autism need and deserve."

Mark Lever added; "We'd like to thank Cheryl Gillan MP and the thousands of autism campaigners, MPs and peers for their support - together we have made legal history."

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