Skip to content

Autism Awareness Day

Introducing the people behind the National Autism Trainer Programme (NATP) this World Autism Awareness Day (2 April 2024).

Autism Awareness Day Blog

Collaboration is a key part of Anna Freud’s Closing the Gap strategy. A great example of this working in practice is the National Autism Trainer Programme (NATP). Commissioned by NHS England and run in partnership with AT-Autism, this programme will eventually deliver training to 4,800 staff who work with, or who may work with, diagnosed or undiagnosed autistic people.

NATP is a hugely important programme for Anna Freud as a mental health charity because, although autism is not a mental health condition in itself, autistic people are more likely to live with a mental health condition. Research shows that nearly 78 per cent of autistic children have at least one mental health condition.

We’re marking World Autism Awareness Day (2 April 2024) by bringing together Georgia Pavlopoulou and Ruth Moyse - the Directors and Strategic Co-Leads of this programme to tell you more about themselves, their careers and their hopes for NATP and the neurodivergent community. This recent blog by Georgia explains what we mean by neurodiversity.

Learn more about NATP by signing up to the first NATP conference on Tuesday 30 April. You can also visit this NATP webpage to find out if you’re eligible for training.

Introducing Georgia and Ruth

Georgia and Ruth first collaborated at Anna Freud in 2019, when they trained a cohort of 80 professionals from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) across London and the South East of England.

Since then, they’ve conducted numerous training sessions together. In July 2023, they received an award from University College London (UCL) for Excellence in Innovation after designing and delivering the #Tier4AFC national pilot on autistic mental health. Training developed in the pilot is now being rolled out across England as NATP.

A few words from Georgia

I've been working closely with autistic people in various educational and therapy settings for the past two decades. Through my experiences, I've seen the challenges, opportunities and advantages of prioritising autistic people’s views. I’m proud that Anna Freud has supported me to expand my research and training collaborations, beyond consultation.

One of my current priorities is my role as Co-Investigator at RE-STAR. This is a research project delivered by a collaboration of universities and organisations, I work with a neurodiverse team to explore strategies for reducing depression risk among autistic and ADHD teens in educational settings. Our team also studies new and innovative ways to engage neurodivergent young people as co-researchers in mental health studies. In addition to this, I’m also involved in co-leading a UCL-funded bottom-up initiative focused on tailored interpersonal therapy for depressed autistic adults.

I began testing out ideas that would eventually evolve into the National Autism Trainer Programme back in 2018. While it may not always be easy, synergies with autistic people have been absolutely necessary if we truly want to rewrite the narrative that sees autism as a set of deficits. To ensure that my practices are rooted in the autistic narratives, I prioritise active listening, taking risk, and continuously learning from mistakes and other experiences. These core principles form the foundation of my upcoming book, which I have co-authored on with more than 20 neurodivergent colleagues, most of them autistic, part of the Anna Freud Best Practice Series by Routledge.

It's truly amazing to see the professionals we train at NATP forming working groups and communities of practice to discuss what they have learned and find inspiration to make further changes and adaptations to their services. It fills me with hope that these efforts will soon result in substantial and long-lasting improvements in the care provided to autistic people in all-age mental health settings.

On World Autism Day, I want to send my love to all autistic co-researchers, friends, colleagues and family members who enrich my life every day of the year with their kindness, expertise, passion and humour.

A few words from Ruth

When my daughter was diagnosed as autistic 13 years ago, I realised that everything I knew about autism was based on stereotypes. So began a journey of discovery that included my own diagnosis as an early second stop, and the shock of learning the staggeringly poor mental health statistics for autistic people of all ages. Surely, it didn’t need to be this way?

My subsequent work supporting autistic girls and their families, via the Parenting Special Children charity highlighted the individuality of autistic people - their lives, their interests, their wishes. Struck by the lack of written material about life for autistic girls at school, I researched mainstream experiences with autistic females in primary and then in secondary settings. The latter study, focused specifically on absenteeism, drew out overlaps with mental health that appeared to have deteriorated at least in part through unmet needs. A misunderstanding, or misinterpretation of needs.

I hope the National Autism Trainer Programme provides the opportunity for delegates to similarly evolve their understanding of autism in a safe and non-judgemental environment, with like-minded professionals who also care. It’s a chance to reflect on practice; a chance to challenge preconceptions; and a chance to grow.

This World Autism Day, make space for autistic people to thrive as their authentic selves. Let us focus on acceptance, belonging and connection. On what we can control. On creating ripples of change, for good.

About NATP

We hope this tells you a little more about us, and why we co-produce and co-deliver the National Autism Trainer Programme with over 100 autistic content developers, trainers and champions.

If you want to learn more, join us at our April Conference - One year on: Shared learning experiences and ripples of change. The conference is for anyone with a strong interest in autistic mental health, not just for NATP delegates. We will be joined by many experts and speakers to explore autistic mental health, and the impact of NATP as we approach the one year anniversary of delivering training.

You can also stay up to date with all the latest NATP news, training dates and events by subscribing to the NATP newsletter.


Georgia Pavlopoulou (Director and Strategic Co-Lead of the National Autism Trainer Programme at Anna Freud. Associate Professor at University College London. Research Director at Research in Relationships And NeuroDiversity - GRRAND)

Ruth Moyse (National Autism Trainer Programme Director and Strategic Co-Lead. Director at AT-Autism, Visiting Research Fellow at University of Southampton)