The report finds overwhelming support for the concept (96 per cent among the 1,215 autistic people, families and professionals surveyed) and adds further impetus, we hope, for the Scottish Government to make good on their commitment and indeed the SNP’s Manifesto Commitment to legislate for a Commissioner.
There is an undeniable case for a Commissioner. While Scotland has in many cases, world leading laws, strategies and policies in this area, the reality is these good intentions and frameworks don’t translate into the kind of tangible support that individuals and families need, whether that is in school, health or social care or in work.
The results are heart-breaking: families waiting more than a year for an autism diagnosis for their son or daughter, children labelled naughty and excluded from school, more than half of adults reporting that they desperately need support with their mental health, and just one in five in paid employment.
The Commissioner would be a catalyst for change, acting as a powerful champion, challenging bad practice and promoting good, as well as injecting accountability into the system by ensuring that those that need support get it as a matter of course, without the struggle, without the fight and without people reaching crisis point, which sadly is so often the threshold for help.
And change cannot come soon enough. Nicola Cameron, whose story features in the report, sums the issue up perfectly as she talks about the fight for her son who is in school: “Our experience has been prolonged, frustrating, and confusing. After six years we are finally getting some clarity on Alex’s support needs. But it is upsetting to have lost critical years that could have been used to make his school experience easier. We have been left to navigate the system on our own, learning as we go and funding everything ourselves”.
2023 is already shaping up to be challenging, not just for individuals and families in terms of the cost of living, but also for both central and local government. There may be a temptation to push this work back, to deprioritise it, or even scrap it. Indeed, there has already been delay, with the public consultation on the Bill and Commissioner being pushed back to the end of this year.
This we believe is a mistake, not just for the autistic people and their families who desperately need help but for Scotland as a whole, and we’re urging Ministers to give this work the priority it needs.
As the Government moves forwards on a new National Care Service and on wide reaching education reforms, we need a Commissioner in post making the powerful case for this too often marginalised group, to not do so risks pushing autistic people further to the fringes of our society and not closer to where they should rightly be as included and empowered citizens.
Rob Holland, Director of National Autistic Society Scotland