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To do better for autistic children, we must close the accountability gap

Director of the National Autistic Society ScotlandNick 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.

Click here to read more about the Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved report and campaign

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.

Click here to find out more about the ‘Our Voice Our Rights’ campaign

Click here to find out more about the National Autistic Society Scotland and its work

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 (click here to learn more), 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 (click here to learn more), an accessible online resource which capture the voices of children and young people on a range of diverse subjects.  To support children and young people with additional support needs, we also have Reach (click here to learn more), a website dedicated to sharing advice, tips and experiences from young people, for young people.

About the author

Nick Ward is Director of National Autistic Society Scotland

Click to find out more

Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved

Read our report with partners Scottish Autism and National Autistic Society

Click to download the report

Inclusion Ambassadors

We manage an inclusion group for young people with additional needs

Click to read more

My Rights, My Say

A support service providing advice and information for young people on their right to support

Click to find out more


The Scottish advice service for additional support for learning

Click to find out more


Advice for young people to understand their rights to be supported and involved in decisions

Click to find out more