Happy New Year! It’s only 4 January, but we have such an exciting year planned at The National Autistic Society. I thought you might want to know about what's going to be happening in 2016.

Mark Lever

This year, we're launching the biggest ever campaign to increase public understanding of autism. When we asked you, our members and supporters, about how much public understands autism, fewer than 1 in 6 of you agreed that the public understood enough. Thousands of you said that, because of this, you often felt trapped in your own homes. Well we don't think that's good enough in 2016 and we are determined to change things. Based on detailed research and testing, our public understanding of autism campaign will launch to the public in April. There will be plenty of ways for you to get involved, from sharing stories and videos on social media to approaching businesses to ask them to do more to welcome autistic people into cafes, cinemas and all the places that other people take for granted. If you don't already receive it, make sure you subscribe to our email update so you know how to get involved first.

We know too that often it's hard for autistic people and families to get information about how to unlock support. Our relaunched website (we hope you like the new design) will continue to be a key tool for families and people on the autism spectrum. Last year, over 4 million people visited our site, making it the biggest source of autism information in the UK. This year, we will continue to provide that much-needed information in  more formats so that it's even easier to get the knowledge you need. We will also be focusing on our helpline - aiming to answer more of your queries in full the first time you call.

Our schools and services will be focusing on gathering evidence of our impact. When I go to one of our outstanding schools or excellent services, I know the people were support are living the lives they choose. This is thanks to the brilliant work of our staff. But we need to get better at collecting evidence to show others the huge impact that having staff with an in-depth understanding of autism can make. We want this new knowledge to spread to other services supporting autistic people of all ages, including those who don't currently specialise in autism.

Finally, we will continue to spread understanding of autism to more professionals. We want to exceed our results from last year, when we helped 10,000 professionals to understand autism better. We will be working more with prisons so that autistic people unlucky enough to end up entangled in the criminal justice system get treated fairly and with understanding. It's a huge problem and a mammoth task but we are determined to make a difference.

Of course, all of this takes money. Last year's World Autism Awareness Week was our biggest ever, raising over £235,000. We're hoping we can top that this year and that you can support us, whether that's through donning a onesie on Onesie Wednesday, selling cakes as part of the pink and purple cake bake, or doing a sponsored walk in one of our Night Walks. We're hoping all these activities will be fun while raising money for an important cause.

There is one more thing we're changing this year. You might have noticed that almost everything I've talked about here is underpinned by a key aim: to give people the understanding of autism that they need. From our website giving autism information 24/7 to our work with politicians, professionals and the public, to our services and schools that show what's possible with staff that understand autism, understanding is really what we offer the world. From today, we're going to be even clearer about that. Our strapline from today is changing to Until Everyone Understands. When we asked both autistic people and families about how we describe our charity, both groups agreed this was the best way to explain who we are and what we do. We hope you will agree and that you can continue to support us this year in providing this understanding to the world.

I wish you and your families and friends the happiest of New Years. I hope at this time next year, you will agree that we have helped even more people to understand autism. It is a real privilege to do what we do and we can only do this important work because of your support. Thank you and have a happy 2016.

Mark Lever
Chief Executive, The National Autistic Society