Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:52 pm on 29th March 2018.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 12:52 pm, 29th March 2018

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and I will come on to diagnosis a bit later in my speech.

May I put it on record that while many people associate autism with mental health, it is in fact a developmental condition—a lifelong developmental condition—and not necessarily a mental health condition? Autistic people are as likely to suffer from a mental health problem as anybody else—any neurotypical person. I really want to make sure that nobody in this House ever confuses that, and I hope that that puts the record straight.

I wish to touch on the Autism Act 2009. Almost 10 years ago, I was very privileged to draw No. 1 in the ballot for private Members’ Bills and then to take through the Bill that became that Act. We are coming up to the 10th anniversary of the Act, which is really important. A key element of the Act was to mandate the Government to produce an adult autism strategy, and the 10-year anniversary will coincide with a year in which that strategy is up for review. The all-party group is working towards holding to account every Government Department involved, and making sure that their feet are held to the fire, because this affects almost every area of public life and public policy. Ahead of the review, I want all areas of our Government to consider how they can better support people with autism and people on the autism spectrum.

It is also important to look at the good that that Act has done. Almost 10 years on, the National Autistic Society had a look at this, and it is worth reflecting on the fact that autism really is on the agenda now for an awful lot of people, and locally as well. Almost everyone is aware of autism. NAS polling showed that 99.5% of people were aware of autism, and almost every council—93% of them—has an autism lead.