Daniel Johnson: Autistic kids need greater help in 2019

Daniel Johnson is the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern
Daniel Johnson is the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern
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Throughout 2018 some fantastic debates have taken place in parliament. One that stands out in my mind is the members’ debate I brought forward towards the end of the 2018.

Its focus was the report on autistic children’s experience of the school system in Scotland, co-authored by Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism.

It’s not often I read a report and I have an emotional reaction, but I would challenge anyone to read that report and not feel angry.

The report stated that 13 per cent of parents of autistic children had had their child formally excluded in the last two years; 28 per cent said that their child had been placed on a part-time timetable; 34 per cent of parents said that their child had been sent home without formal exclusion – that is simply not right and it’s unlawful.

Most harrowingly, when attending the report’s launch preceding the debate, I heard of children bundled into so-called “soft rooms” – a term that deeply concerns me.

Following the debate, I have spoken to constituents who have confirmed some of its findings and that anger intensifies. Everyone has a right to be educated. The strain put on families experiencing this type of situation is simply unacceptable.

And these situations are directly linked with the stark decrease in the number of learning support and additional support needs teachers across Scotland. A decrease of 18 per cent between 2010 and 2017, shows that more and more pressure is being placed on a dwindling number of professionals.

The number of support staff is vitally important in this area. Without the right number of trained staff situations that negatively affect those with autism, and anyone else involved in the classroom, will continue to arise.

Both children and staff will continue to struggle.

I lay that squarely at the feet of the Scottish Government. It is ultimately their responsibility to make sure that enough staff are being trained and that the requisite levels of funding are given to local authorities to retain those staff. Much more needs to be done in terms of funding and training if real improvement is to be seen.

And while the debate in parliament showed that there has been a shift in understanding regarding the complex needs of those with autism and other neurodevelopment disorders, there is still a long way to go before people with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders have the adequate levels of support that they need and deserve.

It is a situation that frustrates me. We recognise the problems that exist and we know what action needs to be taken, yet change comes at a snail’s pace.

As we move forward into 2019 I will continue to push for improvements to be made. The Scottish Government needs to listen to the calls for reform that I and agencies like those who authored the report continue to make.

Daniel Johnson is the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern