Autism Sufferers Face Long Distance Journeys For Care

Autistic people in Edinburgh and the Lothians are being forced to travel hundreds of miles every week for day care because of a lack of services closer to home. One severely autistic man from Edinburgh is enduring an 80-mile round trip every day in a taxi because there are no suitable places in the city. The Scottish Society for Autism (SSA) hs demanded the Scottish Executive do more to improve the quality of life for people with the condition.

The organisation also called for more research to explain why there has been a 600 per cent increase in the number of teenagers diagnosed with autism in the past ten years. There are currently 7000 children in the Lothians who have been diagnosed with autism.

The society’s chief executive, John McDonald, said: “There’s a fair amount of generalised provision for people alongside services for the disabled, but there is limited specialist provision across the country. The rise in the number of children being diagnosed means services need to be better targeted. In schools there are strong attempts to do that, although not everyone can fit into the mainstream school system because their needs are so profound.”

The cause of autism is unknown but it is a lifelong condition that affects the ability to communicate, form relationships and understand everyday activities.

Mr McDonald said up to one-in-four children excluded from school might also be suffering from autism. He believes children would benefit if this was investigated further.

Representatives from autism groups will be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today to call for more research and improvements in service provision. They will be joined by mountaineer Stephen Venables, who wrote a prize-winning account of his son Ollie’s struggle with autism. Authors Marti Leimbach, Douglas Kennedy and Daniel Tammet will also be among the writers to show support for the SSA campaign.

Edinburgh City Council health and social care director Peter Gabbitas admitted gaps in services existed, but could not say how many autistic people had to travel outwith the city to access care.

He said: “There is a growing need for the development of autism services. We are fully aware of this and are flexing up to build on the services that already exist.” He added: “People may be provided with a service outside of the city, in exceptional circumstances, when their needs are such that they can only be met by very specialist services.”

In recent weeks, a new Scottish Executive-backed service offering one-to-one support and accommodation to adults with autism opened in Edinburgh at a cost of £200,000. A Scottish Executive spokesman said significant grants to fund research and improve services had been made and that the Executive was fully committed to supporting autistic people.

Mum-of-two Lorraine Cull knows only too well how patchy services for children and adults with autism are. She has had to fight every step of the way for the care her son Michael receives. When he leftschool three years ago, Mrs Cull found that no-one could look after him because he is severely autistic. It means he has little speech, needs help to dress and demands a strict daily routine. Mrs Cull was left with little choice but to send the 20-year-old in a taxi on an 80 -mile round trip to East Kilbride, to the Albion Resource Centre. At the Scottish Society for Autism centre, Michael learns skills that will help him become more independent.

Mrs Cull, of Broomhouse Terrace, Edinburgh, is grateful to the city council for picking up Michael’s travel expenses and care bills, but she believes children should be cared for closer to home.
“Michael gets a really expensive service but he needs it,” she said. “I wouldn’t have dreamed I would be sending Michael all that way, but we looked at centres here and they just weren’t suitable.”

When Michael was a child, little was known about autism but he was lucky to be included in a pilot project at St Crispin’s School in Edinburgh. “When I meet other parents they are having the same problems now as I had with education, social workers and funding,” Mrs Cull said.