When my 8 year old autistic son was out with his carer today I had taken the very rare opportunity to put on the T.V. when I happened across a live “debate” from the Scottish Parliament on Autism Awareness. As I ran round after my son later on I was experiencing a subconscious anger that on reflection was arising from what I had watched from Edinburgh earlier. Let me briefly explain why.
Firstly, the debating chamber was largely empty reflecting the importance level attached to the topic. The debate had been set up by Mark McDonald MSP, who is an autism parent and whom has to be admired for combining these twin roles. I am not sure of the nature of his child’s ASD but I would never be able to travel away to another area to do a job like his. The support is quite simply not available to us here. Mark was praised by all contributors for raising the topic of autism awareness and I would agree. It is good to have an autism parent at the centre of political events. I heard Malcolm Chisholm’s speech in its entirety and while who ever wrote it made some reasonable points the speed at which he read it again made me feel like it was a chore rather than a duty. Now if this was because of rules about debating time or the like, it left me wondering why more time could not be given to allow a fuller account of his speech? It might have been for the same reason as the poor turn out? That’s just a feeling I was left with though. Malcolm also kicked off by explaining his office had been very late in finding out about the debate and thought it was on another day. Great! This is parliament with all the mod cons of the day, not a village council! For the next while politicians of various parties spoke with varying degrees of impact. Many of their constituency real life examples mentioned did not appear to reflect the complexity of our lives but I know from experience it is really difficult to give a meaningful account of some of the less straight forward issues. In the limited bit I watched a common theme was the progress of the Scottish autism strategy and the benefits of initiatives like the Autism Tool Box and autism friendly cinema. Realistically most conceded that more needs to be done. While I welcome all these things I would also have to say that much, much more has to be done to make Scotland an Autism Friendly country. We are starting to have the discussions via the strategy but much of this is window dressing. Honestly how many authorities have met their 2 year targets fully and had this corroborated by a truly independent analysis? At the sharp end many of the parents I meet and correspond with are not having a good time with education, diagnostic services, social work support, welfare benefits, sibling supports, post school support, leisure and social facilities. Many of the game changers are the costly elements like proper ASD friendly education, not adapted mainstream facilities, environmental considerations at a structural level in all services, fit for purpose support packages for families, early specialist interventions, more specialist professionals.The people extolling the virtues of current developments tend to be policy makers and professionals. There is something of a disconnect between them and those living with ASD.
Duncan F MacGillivray