More support needed for Scots with autism - report

Brain scan image showing regions implicated in autism
Brain scan image showing regions implicated in autism
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With an estimated 50,000 Scots believed to have autism, the National Autistic Society (NAS) Scotland called for them to be given a greater voice in the decisions affecting their lives.

The charity, presenting its findings to the Scottish Parliament , also called for the creation of an “autism employment ambassador” to help people with autism find jobs and stay in the workforce.

The report said councils should also look at where people in their area needed support in the workplace to deal with autism.

And it called for action to combat negative attitudes towards autism which can also affect people’s ability to hold down a job.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people.

Actor Richard Wilson, who will deliver the report - Count us in: it pays to listen - to MSP Mark MacDonald at Holyrood, said he wanted to encourage more support for autistic people to help them lead fulfilling lives.

Wilson, an NAS Scotland ambassador, said: “People with autism may see the world differently from many of us, but they have strong, valuable opinions on the kind of support needed to access the same opportunities most of us take for granted.

“There is palpable frustration that those organisations meant to help are not listening to what they have to say.

“The right support at the right time can make the difference between someone experiencing isolation and related mental health problems or leading a fulfilling life and actively contributing to society.”

One young woman with Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism, highlighted the difficulties faced by those like her who wanted to work.

Alison, 28, was diagnosed at the age of 24 and said it was very difficult at first to deal with in the workplace.

“My manager at the time was rather old-fashioned if well meaning, and many ways in which it was handled were less than ideal,” she said.

“For example, he continued to refer to it as Asperger’s Disease, despite me correcting him, and asked ‘whether they’d be medicating me properly now’ which was very hurtful.

“After he retired though, I have had a much better time. I had a new, sympathetic manager who was very supportive. I also requested some leaflets from NAS Scotland which were helpful in explaining Asperger’s to colleagues.”

Alison said just small things in the workplace could make a big difference. “If it’s noisy around my desk I can become upset quite easily, and am sensitive to sounds and smells that other people don’t notice at all,” she said.

“I have some major strengths in my work which I believe play very well to the autistic traits in me, but being pushed too far can lead to me having some issues with exhaustion, especially if it involves social interaction or being in a noisy environment.”

The report found that 91 per cent of people with autism wanted more say over the support they received, while 79 per cent thought that public understanding of autism was poor.

Worryingly, 69 per cent of adults with autism had not had an assessment of their needs carried out since they had turned 18, while 66 per cent felt they did not have enough support.

Dr Robert Moffat, national director of NAS Scotland welcomed the Scottish Government’s Autism Strategy and the £13.4 million in funding pledged to improved support.

He added: “We are encouraging government, local authorities and a range of organisations to listen to people with autism and work with them in order to maximise the effectiveness of the Autism Strategy for Scotland.

“We believe such a partnership is essential to improve quality of life for people with autism and their families.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is strongly committed to giving people with autism, and their families and carers the opportunity to inform the decisions that affects them and our Scottish Strategy for Autism reflects this.

“Through the National Reference Group, sub groups and local Networks people with autism are involved in the implementation of the Strategy nationally and locally.

“The Scottish Government welcomes the National Autistic Society Scotland’s “Count us in” Report and looks forward to working together in considering its recommendations.”