Inquiry needed to solve autism puzzle

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As a coalition of independent and third sector providers dealing with people with learning difficulties and complex needs, the reported fourfold increase in those who need extra help in the classroom due to conditions such as autism, ADHD and learning difficulties (6 May) is no surprise.

While we recognise that some of the increase is due to greater awareness of these conditions and changes to the way figures are collected, we too would join in 
supporting an independent and thorough inquiry to 
ascertain where these children are coming from and if there are any other reasons for the increase.

It will also ensure that 
support and resources are targeted in the most effective manner for teachers dealing these children.

Such a dramatic increase in numbers has led to increased pressure on teachers and other professionals in education dealing with those with additional support needs, against a background of local authority cuts.

Pupils who have support needs have a considerably higher exclusion rate than the rest of the pupil population, and being able to identify and address these needs will reduce rates and lead to improved educational achievement and confidence for pupils.

However, very few staff are currently trained to deal with those with learning disabilities and autism, and only a handful of councils have mandatory general training on additional support needs. Such training should not be an aspiration, but is essential.

We welcome the opportunity to be part of this debate as with the necessary inputs we can ensure that those
children with additional 
support needs are given the best possible start in life.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition,

comprising:

Sophie Dow

Mindroom

Tom McGhee

Spark of Genius

Duncan Dunlop

Who Cares? Scotland

Stuart Jacob

Falkland House School

Brian Durham

Young Foundations

Your article about a ten-year, fourfold rise in children requiring learning support – many because of mild to 
severe neurological conditions, including autism – 
contains a stark reminder from the Autism Treatment Trust that “no plausible explanation is being offered by those responsible for public health matters”.

Why not? It’s what we pay them for. There is probably a man in the United States who believes he could offer an 
explanation, but who would listen to him now?

Anyone offering a re-
examination of the diagnostic statistics for those ten years, and the ten years previous, to be set against changes in childhood vaccination practices would probably be drowned in the bile from dissenting interests.

The impact of these 
conditions on individual children and their families – and the budgetary implications they increasingly have on the NHS, and education and social services organisations – demand that nailing these problems becomes a principal, maybe the principal, UK national health project until they are understood.

The US once had a president brave enough to pledge that his country would place a man on the Moon in a 
decade; where is the minister for health with the political will to pledge their political future against eradication of this neurological, and maybe man-made, plague?

It will require money, of course, but until someone has found a way to profit from it I suspect the children will be left to suffer.

David Fiddimore

Calton Road

Edinburgh

I refer to your leader, “Case for an inquiry into autism figures now clear” (6 May). Autism seems to be everywhere, but where did it come from? Rather like Aids and BSE, autism just seemed to appear from nowhere and speedily reach epidemic 
proportions.

Scientists sorted out Aids and BSE with alacrity, such that the latter has virtually disappeared and the former has become treatable with even the prospect of cure.

In 1960, I was a house physician at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh and during that time three or four senior colleagues specialising in paediatrics, valued members of the hospital team looking after sick children, went off to sit the examination for membership of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 
expressing paediatrics as their specialist subject.

They all returned in a state of profound despair.

One of the three compulsory questions was on the subject of “infantile autism”. These candidates were our brightest and best, but none had even heard of “infantile autism”.

Over a cup of coffee to straighten the nerves they took down from the shelf the “bible” of paediatrics, Nelson, which dealt with the subject in a single sentence, so it must have been very rare 
indeed.

Where did it come from? Let Aids and BSE be a lesson. Scientific effort can work wonders and in short time.

Please, please, please let not effort to sort out autism be held back for want of funding. Let it be made a priority, because, as you point out in your leader, autism can be devastating for individuals, for families and for schools.

(Dr) Andrew Gunn

Letham

Angus

Lyndsay Buckland’s article on the extra support needed for pupils is a welcome 
revelation.

As a former head of an 
Edinburgh primary school, retired a couple of years ago, I estimated that around 20 per cent of any class had 
special needs entitlements of one kind or another in the fairly typical catchment area of that school.

At the time, my estimates were considered high, but I expect that the fourfold 
increase is simply a case of the figures becoming more realistic after years when the statistics collected by authorities simply didn’t recognise the low-level but significant learning problems many children exhibit at some point in their lives.

Schools, of course, are under pressure to downplay numbers since they have to find or negotiate resources: time, occupational therapy (OT), speech and language therapy (SLT), classroom 
support and special needs training for staff.

These resources are under pressure as “efficiency” savings kick in year on year.

The impact of external services such as OT, SLT and school psychological services also depend on the ability of the individual professionals involved to communicate. (This was never a problem in my experience with OT or SLT.)

The system of individual education plans works very well in those schools that take them seriously, and 
pupils can then be tracked and supported from week to week, month to month and year to year.

If the will is there among staff and management, then more will be done to recognise and help pupils.

I therefore hope that the increase in numbers is mainly because staff are becoming more aware and schools in general are becoming more receptive.

Roger Meachem

High Street

Yetholm, Kelso

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