The National Autistic Society announced the winners of the 2019  Autism Professionals Awards last week at a special ceremony at Birmingham Town Hall. The top accolade, the Lifetime Achievement Award, went to Professor Pat Howlin in recognition of the impact of her research on understanding of autism and support for autistic people.

The prestigious Outstanding Achievement by an Individual on the Autism Spectrumaward was given to Chris Bonnello – a former primary school teacher who reinvented himself as a writer, tutor and international speaker and runs Autistic not weird. He focuses on defining himself by his strengths rather than his weaknesses, and encourages other autistic people to follow the same philosophy.


The annual awards recognise people, services and schools across the UK who are making a difference to autistic people and their families. This year’s awards, which took place following the first day of the charity’s 10th Anniversary Professionals Conference, were hosted by Carrie Grant, a broadcaster and vocal coach, and Sarah Hendrickx, an autism consultant, trainer, coach and author. They handed out 12 awards to individuals and organisations involved in education, health, social care, employment, and volunteering.

The winners were chosen by an independent panel of autism specialists who were looking for high standards of innovation, creativity, impact and sustainability. By celebrating their achievements, the National Autistic Society hopes to increase public understanding of autism and inspire other people and organisations to make a difference too.

Pat Howlin, the Lifetime Achievement Award winner, is Emeritus Professor of Clinical Child Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London. She is a founding editor of Autism, a major international journal, and author of over 200 research publications. From her early career, she recognized the importance of taking a lifelong approach to autism, and pioneered research on autistic adults and older autistic people. She has always recognised the importance of ensuring all approaches are underpinned by evidence and has stood firmly with families and autistic adults against dubious and unproven treatments. 

There are approximately 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Being autistic means someone sees, hears and feels in a different, often more intense way to other people, which can make the world a very overwhelming place.

Autistic people have their own strengths and varying needs, from 24-hour care to simply needing clearer communication and a little longer to do things at work and school. Without the right support or understanding, autistic people can miss out on an education, struggle to find work and become extremely isolated.

Carol Povey, Director of the National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism, said: “Well done to all of our winners and finalists.

“I know that it was tough for the judges to choose between so many excellent nominations. Seeing so many inspirational professionals together made me really excited for the future of great support for autistic children and adults.

“Support and services for autistic people are still nowhere near as available and high quality as they should be. But today’s winners and finalists show that there is some really fantastic work going on across the UK. By sharing their achievements, I hope we can inspire other professionals and organisations and give them some ideas about how they can do their bit to create a society that works for autistic people.”

The full list of winners:

Awards for individuals

Lifetime Achievement Award

  • Pat Howlin

Most Inspirational Volunteer, sponsored by Room to Reward

  • Ryan Bardsley

Achievement by an Individual Education Professional

  • Julie Dalton

Outstanding Achievement by an Individual on the Autism Spectrum

  • Chris Bonnello

Outstanding Healthcare and/or Social Care Professional

  • Sally Fitzpatrick

Awards for teams

Inspirational Education Provision – Primary Schools and Early Years

  • Little Learners

Inspirational Education Provision – Higher and Further Education and other education providers

  • LAMP

Outstanding Adult or Children’s Services

  • Wigan Adult Autism Partnership Board

Outstanding Health Services, sponsored by Axia

  • Trust-wide autism project team

Innovative Family Support

  • Clifford Chance LLP and the National Autistic Society

Most Supportive Employer

  • Waitrose High Wycombe

Most Creative Community Project

  • Community Rail Lancashire

Find out more about autism, the Autism Professionals Awards and the Professional Conference by visiting: www.autism.org.uk/professionals

The National Autistic Society

  • The National Autistic Society is the UK’s leading charity for autistic people.
  • We are here to transform lives, change attitudes and create a society that works for autistic people.
  • Since 1962, we have been campaigning for autistic people’s rights and providing support and advice to autistic people and their families.
  • To find out more about autism or the charity, visit www.autism.org.uk.
  • Follow the National Autistic Society on Twitter @Autism or Facebook.

About autism

  • Autism is a lifelong disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.
  • There are approximately 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
  • Autism is a spectrum condition. This means autistic people have their own strengths and varying needs, from 24-hour care to simply needing clearer communication and a little longer to do things at work and school.
  • Although everyone is different, people on the autism spectrum may:
  • Be under or oversensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours, which can make everyday life extremely difficult
  • Find social situations and change a challenge, sometimes leading to extreme levels of anxiety
  • Experience a ‘meltdown’ if overwhelmed by anxiety or sensory overload
  • Benefit from extra time to process and respond to communication.
  • Without the right support or understanding, autistic people can miss out on an education, struggle to find work and become extremely isolated.

The Autism Professionals Awards

  • The Autism Professionals Awards recognise and reward services and professionals and services who are leading the way in innovative autism practice and making a real difference to the lives of autistic people in the UK.
  • The awards seek to acknowledge the outstanding contributions and achievements of individuals, teams and organisations who have demonstrated excellence, dedication and commitment to improving the lives of autistic people.
  • The independent judging panel consists of nine autism specialists. Read about them here: www.autismprofessionalsawards.org.uk/judges.
  • The winners were announced at a special ceremony on 7 March 2019 in Birmingham, following the first day of National Autistic Society’s Professionals Conference.
  • Find out more about the awards, the 12 winners and shortlisted candidates: www.autismprofessionalsawards.org.uk.

Professionals Conference

  • The National Autistic Society’s annual Autism Professional Conference is the major national event bringing together professionals to hear about the latest developments in autism practice and share learning.
  • This is the tenth conference and will also mark the tenth anniversary of the Autism Act
  • Find out more and read the full programme here: https://www.autism.org.uk/conferences.