In 2011, the Scottish Government launched its Scottish Autism Strategy – an ambitious plan that aimed to “address the entire autism spectrum and the whole lifespan of people living with ASD in Scotland”. We are now five years into that plan and it is clear that our education and mental health infrastructure is still struggling to meet the needs of those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and the needs of those who care for them.
Last year, I conducted my own autism parents/carers consultation and the responses collected gave a real insight into the deficits in our health, care, and education services and where we might improve. It also gave an insight into the gap between the rights that parents expect from the legislation enacted by the Scottish Parliament and their experiences.
After the consultation, I presented a study of its findings to Scottish Labour’s Policy Forum. I also held a roundtable event to discuss my findings with Labour politicians, interested charities, and the families who were involved in the study. This open, discursive event led to a number of valuable insights into what needs to be done to improve services for those with ASD in the Lothians. This process highlighted the need for improvement in the following areas:
- The need for a greater understanding of ASD by our care and support services. Specifically, specially trained staff to provide the necessary care for those with ASD.
- The need to reduce waiting times for diagnosis and for better access to, and quality of, the information available on ASD support services – particular regarding the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
- The need for greater recognition of the impact that the current deficit in support has on parents’ employment status and general well-being and for more to be done to help support these carers.
Since then I’ve met with PASDA, carers of people with autism, and have heard first-hand the challenges young people and adults face in their attempts to receive appropriate care and support. I’ve also met with local constituents campaigning for a new school to support children with autism who have a high level of learning difficulties and a high level of communication and behavioural needs. Last week, I attended the National Autistic Society’s round-table event where we swapped ideas over how we can improve autism services in Scotland.
It’s clear to me that there is a real desire to improve our ASD services. However, it is also clear that the Scottish Government must do far more to help improve the lives of those with ASD and for those who care for them before the Scottish Autism Strategy can be considered a success.
Our local authorities are key to improving education, social care, and employment support for people with autism. But after 9 years of the council tax freeze there is huge pressure on local services. That’s why I’m supporting Scottish Labour’s plans to invest in education services and see this as key to give young people with autism at school the proper support they need without lengthy and damaging delays.
This week is Schools’ Autism Awareness Week and I hope it will raise awareness of how far we need to go to change our education system in order for it to give all young people with autism access to better educational opportunities.
For my part, I will continue campaigning on this issue and hope that real progress can be made in the near future. I will now liaise with Scottish Labour’s health and education teams to discuss the issues raised during these events and how we might, as a party, proceed with commitments to improve the lives of people with autism and their families.