Autism campaigner hails moves to end patchy treatment for disability

A MAJOR project to determine the availability of autism services across Scotland is to be launched in an attempt to end the “postcode lottery” for treatment.

The £400,000 Scottish Government-funded scheme, spearheaded by the National Autistic Society (Nas) Scotland and involving Scottish Autism and Autism Initiatives, will set out to “map” all existing services throughout the country and highlight discrepancies between regions. It will also consult with people with the condition, their families and autism professionals.

It is estimated by the Nas that 50,000 people in Scotland have the condition, the equivalent of one in every 100 people, but currently only 7,500 are known to local authorities.

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Autism groups in Scotland have said that the patchwork nature of support services means that while one local authority may be offering comprehensive diagnoses services, home adaption and case workers at an early stage, others, sometimes in neighbouring regions, will not.

The aim of the National Autism Co-ordination Project, which starts next month, will be to identify where support services in areas such as diagnosis, education, general health and employment are currently falling short.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.

It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways.

Sandra Webster, 42, of Paisley, has two sons, Lucas, 11, and Callum, eight, both of whom have autism. Her family has experienced the postcode lottery of treatment. “For people living in Glasgow there are so many services available,” she said. “There’s an early intervention team; there is Yorkhill Hospital, which has an amazing diagnosis service, but because we live a few streets away, that’s not available and the services just aren’t there.”

In a recent Nas Scotland survey, 95 per of respondents agreed that more local services are needed for people with autism. Inappropriate support for people with autism is said to cost the Scottish economy an estimated £2.3 billion each year.

Welcoming the funding, Dr Robert Moffat, national director of Nas Scotland, described the project as “once in a lifetime opportunity” to help produce a system of cost-effective, efficient support for people with autism and their families.

“Some people with autism require a lifetime of care, but many are living on society’s margins, and crying out to live every day, working lives, fulfilled with relationships and friends, interests and activities,” he said.

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“They want to achieve their full potential and become productive members of society. But without support they can face isolation, often prisoners in their own homes and relying on families for support.”

Moffat said bodies such as local authorities, and health, welfare and education services, often failed to help since “they don’t recognise autism, or understand its impact”.