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Think of a Disabled Facilities Grant. What sort of home modifications do you think of? A wet room? A stairlift? A ramp? If that’s the case, it’s not surprising as those three types of work comprise almost 90% of adaptations funded with a Disabled Facilities Grant, with the aim of meeting the needs of people with a physical disability. But it is not only people with a physical disability who may be eligible for a DFG. The term disability encompasses a wide range of impairments which may be physical (e.g. restricted mobility), cognitive (e.g. dementia), neurodiverse (e.g. autism), sensory impairments (e.g. hearing, visual) or a learning disability. The recently issued DFG Guidance describes a series of steps to help determine what work might be carried out with DFG funding to help meet the needs of someone with an impairment. For an autistic person this might typically be to make the home safer.

Most councils now also provide a range of discretionary housing assistance to complement the mandatory DFG. This may include additional discretionary funding where the cost of the work required exceeds the current statutory maximum grant or to meet different needs which may not be encompassed by the mandatory provisions. In all such situations the aim is to enable people to live independently, safely and well in their own home.

There are however two challenges which autistic people may face when thinking about adaptations.

The first is an understanding by staff responsible for making decisions about the funding of adaptations of the way autism affects different people and how this relates to modifications which may be required to their home environment. The needs of autistic people may often be complex and effective assessment processes may often require a multi-disciplinary approach. The National Strategy for Autism noted ‘local authorities are not always aware of how adaptations can support autistic people’. Autistic people themselves may not be aware that DFGs are available to help meet the cost of any modifications which might be needed.

The second challenge is identifying what modifications will make a difference and how these can best be carried out. A recent report carried out by the National Development Team for Inclusion about meeting the sensory needs of autistic people in housing noted that the significant sensory differences of autistic people may mean that they are ‘plunged into perpetual sensory crisis, leading to either a display of extreme behaviour – a meltdown, or to an extreme state of physical and communication withdrawal – a shutdown. If we add to this the misunderstandings from social communication with one another, it becomes easier to see how opportunities to improve autistic lives have been missed’ (https://www.ndti.org.uk/assets/files/Housing-paper-final-formatted-v2.pdf)

Both these issues were discussed at a recent online discussion group convened by Foundations for a small group of practitioners. We will be following this up with a roundtable meeting. This will provide an opportunity to take forward these discussions and begin to identify some practical ways in which the housing needs of autistic people can be better met and how DFG funding (whether through mandatory or discretionary grants) can help to support this outcome.