An independent review of the Scottish Government and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities' (COSLA) 10-year Autism Strategy recently concluded that real change for many autistic people is not evident.
The aim of the strategy, which comes to an end this year, was for autistic people to be “respected, accepted and valued by their communities and have confidence in services to treat them fairly so that they are able to have meaningful and satisfying lives".
The review concluded that after ten years, valuable resources have been created and new and additional services delivered. However, real change for many autistic people, both in how they engage with services and in how they are supported to live productive lives, is not as evident.
It added: "to have a greater impact, the services and support need to have greater reach, become embedded and be sustained.”
This echoes the findings from the Cross-Party Group on Autism’s own 2020 review the ‘Accountability Gap’ which found (from a survey of 900) that 72% of autistic people and families did not have enough support to meet their needs across a number of areas including education, care and employment.
In the lead up to the May Holyrood Election National Autistic Society Scotland together with partners Scottish Autism and ENABLE Scotland campaigned under the banner of ‘Our Voice Our Rights’ for a Commissioner to promote and protect the rights of individuals and their families.
This resulted in a commitment in the SNP Manifesto to introduce a Commissioner as part of a Learning Disability, Autism and Neurodiversity Bill. Scoping work on this is due to begin shortly.
‘Our Voice Our Rights’ campaign
Nick Ward Director of National Autistic Society Scotland said: “What is clear from this report is that autistic people and their families are still, after ten years, not getting the vital support that they need to live meaningful and fulfilled lives.
"The review sets out some positive ways forward and we are delighted that the Scottish Government has committed to establishing a Commissioner. We believe a Commissioner with robust powers to uphold rights, challenge bad practice and promote good will lever real change.”
Suzanne from Dunfermline was part of the ‘Our Voice Our Rights’ campaign and has an autistic son called Callum. She said: “Callum has a lot of challenges, he is constantly having to deal with sensory issues and sounds and he needs someone supporting him most of the time. It’s difficult for people to understand what he is saying and so we need to be with him when he is out to help as well as explain his compulsion to touch people.
"When Covid hit a lot of the services withdrew leaving us to deal with health education and social work issues. Over time that has got better but we’re still not receiving the level of support we had before the pandemic. I think there needs to be a lot more joined up thinking, sometimes we end up going from service to service – there needs to be someone holding the system together, someone at a national level I can go to if there is an issue.
"My hope is that when Callum leaves school he doesn’t end up sitting in a day centre all the time and that there are opportunities for him. He loves buses and would love to be a bus driver. That may not be possible but working or volunteering in and around buses would be amazing for him.”