As a non-profit organization, the United Kingdom’s National Autistic Society, or NAS, is currently the largest entity operating as a charity for the purpose of helping people with autism. A primary focus of the organization is the help those who are autistic find a place in the world that allows them to lead a life they want and desire, not what is relegated to them because of their condition.
National Autistic Society: The Mission
The Autistic Society works through programs to change the general understanding of autism and increase support for autistic members of society. The interest of Society efforts is to:
- Improve and increase resources of support.
- Provide for education of those with autism.
- To build and establish training for autistic individuals to adequately function in society.
- To help autistic people enjoy an independent, dignified life.
- Enhance autistic people’s ability to be a part of their community.
- To increase respect for autistic individuals in a community.
The mission of the National Autistic Society is not just to normalize the lives of autistic persons. It is dedicated to helping them find ways to be productive and beneficial members of their communities as well. That includes changing societal perceptions towards autism.
The program also makes a point of building on past experience and lessons. Not every effort results in a big success. Because the Society puts an emphasis on feedback and learning, new efforts are far more targeted for better results than general attempts from the past. Additionally, experience builds a committed and skilled staff and workforce that moves mountains every day to empower and help those with autism. Finally, the Society also includes advocacy in its mission, to be the champion and protector of the rights of those with autism to live equally like everyone else.
The National Autistic Society is not a small organization. It currently has over 20,000 active members and approximately 100 offices or branches for localized representation and activity. They work daily in order to provide information about autism, advice for autistic people’s families and friends, and direct assistance to autistic persons and their loved ones. In some cases, residential and in-person support is also offered through outreach programs. These are often targeted on adults with autism who need additional help. There are also extra-curricular programs for autistic children when they are not in school, which help both their parents as well as the students in staying busy and focused on personal improvement. Finally, centers are instrumental in advocating and finding employment for autistic job candidates, as well as connecting employers with autistic adult candidates. These local activities operate on a permanent basis in Wales, England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
History of the NAS
The National Autistic Society was not as big an organization as it is today early in its beginning. Instead, the organization was put together at the grassroots level by a few dedicated individuals. The Society started with a small group who were upset at how their communities did nothing for their autistic. In 1962, a time where social movements started to spring to life, the first roots of the Society began to grow.
During the 1960s, autism wasn’t even a known condition. There were folks who had speech, hearing or behavior issues, or didn’t adjust well with others. But autism as a condition per se was generally unknown at this time. Instead, persons with autism got other labels put on them such as detached, odd, psychotic or sub-normal. Parents were often blamed for how their children behaved, as if their upbringing methods caused the condition. Doctors were also little help in providing clear and accurate diagnoses; they had no education that could be applied to diagnose autism. Severe cases were simply shucked off to institutions where many patients suffering abuse and mental and physical harm were.
Fast-forward to 2009, the Autism Act was passed. It created a national set of laws associated with disability protection and autism. The Society was instrumental, working with its staff and supporters through a constant pressure of advocacy and education of policymakers and general populations. However, despite the Act and significant shifts in how communities generally view autism today, there are still plenty of instances and challenges where autistic persons and their families run into obstacles. This can range from simple isolation to abuse, fear, and outright discrimination. The struggle continues for autistic individuals to not just be heard and accepted, but to also be integrated in their communities.
Autism is not a once-in-a-million condition. In fact, it is extremely common. One in one hundred new babies is born with autism in our modern society, regardless of our advances in medicine. In fact, it’s because of awareness and advancements that autism is being found and identified far earlier in life than ever before. It’s important for the Society to build on its history and past accomplishment versus resting on its laurels. Perceptions of autism need to be challenged, and it needs to be commonplace that communities help people with autism. This is still an uphill battle despite some very big changes that have occurred over the last five decades.
The National Autistic Society does have a defined strategy that has been in place since 2011. This strategy includes achieving progress in five areas:
- Personal education in schools for autistic persons so that they will have support through every phase of life.
- Improve and enhance connections of autistic persons and their families with each other through experience, practice and education.
- Find and focus on best practices in support for autistic persons and their families.
- Improve and enhance access to experts and specialists with the most recent information and technology, National Autistic Society training and support.
- Ensure that national policies constantly reflect the goals and needs of autistic people and their families.
The organization of the National Autistic Society involves multiple layers. It has such a large and decentralized reach across the UK today.
First off, the Society has a board of trustees. They oversee major operations and ensure that the Society stays on track with its mission and stewardship of its resources. These eight board members serve four-year terms and can be re-elected. The voters are the Society’s 20,000 general members and staff. These 20,000 are condensed into a Council of 42 voting representatives. The Board is also led by a chair member. The board of trustees is staffed and served by the Society’s Strategic Management Group, who also report to the Society’s Chief Executive Officer.
The Society as an organization and legal entity is registered with the Registrar of Companies as well as the Charity Commission. All organization powers are reflected in Articles of Association, which define the operational goals and parameters of the Society, particularly in helping autistic people and improving responses to Autism. The Board, chief executive officer, and the Council provide the overall direction of the 20,000 staff and the 100 field offices of the Society.
Decades of Dedication
The National Autistic Society is an organization dedicated to the improvement of life for those with autism and their families. Combining both direct support as well as advocacy, the Society is dedicated to helping normalize the lives of autistic persons. They work on convincing society to treat autistic persons as equally important members. This includes efforts to educate the public as well as autistic persons, providing training for successful integration, and clear paths for people with autism to have access to specialists. Again, being the largest Autism advocate and supporter organization in the UK, the National Autistic Society has a significant presence that has made great strides for autistic persons and continues to do so.