Steve Cardownie: 17% of autistic kids get suspended from school

Many children with autism say the worst thing about school is being picked on by others
Many children with autism say the worst thing about school is being picked on by others
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This coming Monday sees the beginning of World Autism Awareness Week, which is designed to not only raise awareness about the condition but also to engage people in the fundraising events which are taking place throughout communities, schools and workplaces in order to raise money to enable support organisations to continue their work.

Last year approximately £300,000 was raised and it is hoped that this figure will be surpassed this year. The National Autistic Society aims to transform the lives of autistic people in the UK as well as challenging perceptions and helping to build a society that works for them.

More than 700,000 people in the UK are autistic which means that 2.8 million people will have a relative on the autism spectrum. It is a life-long condition which affects both boys and girls. The exact cause of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is unknown but is recognised as a complex condition that may occur as a result of genetic predisposition, which is a natural tendency, or environmental or some other unknown factors. Studies have demonstrated that the condition is four to five times more common among boys than girls and is estimated to affect tens of millions of people worldwide.

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The society’s website informs us from a study that whilst autism is a hidden disability – in that you can’t always tell if someone has it – it does have a major impact on everyday lives if they are not understood. With 34 per cent of children on the autism spectrum saying that the worst thing about being at school is being picked on, it is evident that this aspect of their young lives needs to be addressed.

The statistics regarding suspensions from school are equally alarming – 17 per cent of autistic children have been suspended from school with 48 per cent of that number being suspended three or more times. Four per cent have been expelled from one or more schools.

These figures, taken from reports by the National Autistic Society, make for stark reading and it is no surprise that parents want to see more action taken within our schools.

When I was a councillor, I had regular dealings with a constituent who readily acknowledged that procedures and protocols were in place for dealing with children with autism in schools. However she also contended that too few teachers were familiar with them and the education system had not dealt with matters properly regarding her young son’s behaviour, which led to his exclusion.

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Understanding autism starts with recognising that people with the condition all experience difficulties with social interaction, in forming social relationships, in verbal and non-verbal communication, in understanding how others think and feel, and in the development of interpersonal play and imagination.

The National Autistic Society Scotland (autism helpline 0845 070 4004) is redoubling its efforts to tackle the issue with a volume of work already having been undertaken in forming strategies for dealing with children with autism in schools, including the vital aspect of adequate training for teachers.

So with World Autism Awareness Week due to start on 26 March and end on 2 April, the goals are ambitious but achievable. A number of events are due to take place in Edinburgh, some of which can be found in the city council’s news blog.

The convener of the city’s health and social care committee, Councillor Ricky Henderson, is well aware that there is still a lot to be done. “Edinburgh is fortunate to have some good services for people with autism but there’s always room for improvement and we are committed to supporting those in need to reach their full potential and to lead happy and independent lives,” he says.

Living with autism cannot be easy but we can all make it a damn sight easier by making a greater effort to recognise the difficulties that those with it face on a daily basis and pledge to support them and the organisations that are working on their behalf.

I’ve just noticed the A9 has some wonderful scenery

As my mother stays in a care home in Nairnshire, I regularly travel on the A9 and have done so for years.

Whereas in times gone by I would retire to bed early the night before after a day of abstinence and prepare for the hazardous journey the next day, nowadays I look forward to the trip and enjoy the scenery.

The additional length of dual carriageway and the average speed cameras have dramatically altered the whole perception of the A9, which is just as well because soon my diesel car will only be allowed on country roads as it will soon be banished from more urban routes, if I am reading the signs correctly.