Covid-19 lockdown measures eased for people with autism and learning difficulties

People with autism and learning difficulties will be allowed to exercise more than once a day during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to updated guidance from the UK Government.

By Jamie McKenzie
Friday, 17th April 2020, 12:30 pm

The new rules say that people with specific health conditions who need to maintain their health will be able to leave their house “two or three times each day.”

The guidance also says this will also be allowed if travelling beyond their local area, ideally in line with a care plan agreed with a medical professional.

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Picture: Harlaw Reservoir, near Edinburgh, in mid-March.

It also says that in order to reduce the spread of infection and protect those exercising, travel outside of the home should be limited as close to your local area as possible. The two-metre distance should be maintained with anyone who is not a member of your household or a carer at all times.

Charlene Tait, deputy CEO of Scottish Autism, said: “We welcome that the UK Government has relaxed the lockdown restrictions for autistic people.

“Being able to go outside for exercise is very important to the health and wellbeing of many autistic people. However, there is still a requirement for clarity around the language used within this guidance. Autistic people need factual and concise information.

“We have had numerous enquiries from autistic people and their families seeking clarity around the language used and differentiated advice provided and what that means for them.

“We are talking with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to ensure that we provide clear, concrete guidance for autistic people and their families in Scotland.”

Clarity on language

The UK Government guidance, which had previously stated that non-essential workers should only leave their homes once a day for exercise or to shop for basic necessities, was amended on Wednesday.

It now reads: “If you (or a person in your care) have a specific health condition that requires you to leave the home to maintain your health – including if that involves travel beyond your local area – then you can do so.

“This could, for example, include where individuals with learning disabilities or autism require specific exercise in an open space two or three times each day – ideally in line with a care plan agreed with a medical professional.”

Scottish Autism say examples of some phrases needing clarity include “ideally they should have a medical/care plan.” The charity says that many people with autism do not have such a plan, likely due to general lack of support, but exercise is still an important part of their wellbeing.

Scottish Autism is working on more accessible guidance and will work with NHS inform to ensure it is accurate and reflects the rules.

Police officers across Scotland will also need to ensure they engage with the public in line with the updated guidance.

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: "On 15th April, the Scottish Government clarified social distancing guidelines for those with specific health conditions or disabilities and we relayed this to officers the same day.

“Officers seek to engage with all members of the public in a constructive manner which is consistent with the guidelines and legislation in place."

Change in lockdown rules

The change in guidance came after lawyers in England were asked for help by two families with children on the autistic spectrum, reports The Guardian.

Bindmans LLP and 39 Essex Chambers argued that the policy was “inflexible” and negatively impacted on those with certain health conditions that required them to spend more time outside for their mental wellbeing. They claimed the rule was therefore “unlawful and discriminatory”.

It is understood one of the children, whose conditions mean it was necessary for them to leave the house more than once a day for their wellbeing, was deliberately taken to a quiet location outside of their local area because of their particular needs.