To do better for autistic children, we must close the accountability gap
12 May 2021
Director of the National Autistic Society Scotland, Nick Ward, on the gap between what is supposed to happen at policy level and what actually happens on the ground to support autistic children and young people
Things need to change. This is what we constantly hear when it comes to the support for autistic children and young people. They tell us that whilst presumption of mainstreaming feels like the right policy, the reality is that many don’t get the support that they need to function, let alone thrive. This gap, between what is supposed to happen at policy level and what actually happens on the ground is endemic in Scottish society. Some call it the implementation gap and others, including ourselves, call it the accountability gap.
It was after our successful joint campaign with Children In Scotland and Scottish Autism around unlawful school exclusions of autistic young people that we knew we had to do something to try and close that gap.
Following significant engagement with third sector organisations and autistic people, we launched ‘Our Voice, Our Rights’, a joint campaign with ENABLE Scotland and Scottish Autism calling for the world’s first commissioner for autistic people and people with a learning disability.
The aim, as we see it, would be to bring accountability to the system, amplify the voices of our communities and promote good practice.
We are thrilled that a number of political parties including the SNP have committed to the concept in their 2021 manifestos.
We hope and believe that this will be a step change. No longer will young autistic people, people with a learning disability and their parents have to fight alone, often against the people upon whom they are also dependent for support. No longer will their voices be ignored by professionals and organisations. No longer will the abuse of the human rights of these young people be tolerated.
Yet we aren’t just waiting for a commissioner to create change. At the National Autistic Society Scotland we have been working to develop a post diagnosis support service offer for young people. We are coming to the end of the pilot and it has been a huge success. We have found working directly with a small number of schools has enabled us to create powerful social groups for autistic young people to help them understand their diagnosis and support each other as peers.
Our Education Rights Service continues to support families to ensure that their children are given the most appropriate support and our branch network continues to offer a range of services and support in communities across Scotland. Indeed, we recently launched our newest and first ‘online only’ branch in the highlands.
We know that it is hard out there. It still takes too long to get a diagnosis, specialist services are few and far between and too few professionals truly understand autism.
However, there are real signs of hope, not least the commitment to a commissioner.
We know we aren’t there yet. A commissioner will have a big remit and face a big challenge – the legislation will no doubt be heavily debated – but we know that what is at stake is the future of autistic children and young people. Things need to change.
Children in Scotland supports a number of groups, services and resources to gather and share the views of children and young people with additional support needs. Since 2019, it's been our great honour to support the Inclusion Ambassadors, a group of young people from across Scotland brought together to speak openly and freely about what works and what doesn’t as pupils with additional support needs. We also manage the Evidence Bank, an accessible online resource which capture the voices of children and young people on a range of diverse subjects. To support cyp with additional support needs, we also have Reach, a website dedicated to sharing advice, tips and experiences from young people, for young people.