Stuart Jacob: Much to be done on autism awareness

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On November 1, 2007 the United Nations (UN) called for one day a year to be observed as World Autism Awareness Day. Today marks the seventh anniversary of that day, as groups across the globe focus on raising knowledge and acceptance of autism through fundraising and awareness raising activities.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that, to varying degrees, affects social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, interests and repetitive behaviour.

It includes Asperger syndrome and affects girls and boys of all races and in all geographic regions with a huge impact on their families, communities and societies.

Around one in 100 people in across Edinburgh and the Lothians has autism, and events will be held today and during the week to raise awareness and understanding, from clothes swaps to art exhibitions, from sponsored walks to information open days.

Falkland House School in Fife will be hosting a seminar on the emotional health and wellbeing of those with autism later in the month.

Symptoms of autism are usually seen early in development. Most children with severe autism are diagnosed by age 3 but some children with milder forms of autism, such as Asperger syndrome, may not be diagnosed until later, when their problems with social interaction cause difficulties at school.

The prevalence is rising in many countries and we have witnessed a dramatic increase in numbers of children with ASD, particularly in the early years. In Edinburgh, for example, the number of children requiring early years support for autism has tripled in six years to 91 children.

This rise can be explained in part by improved public recognition of ASD, improved clinical understanding and developments in diagnosis. If children are diagnosed in the early years, then they will require additional support throughout their school years and this requires greater resourcing. Indeed, caring for and educating children and young people with this condition places challenges on healthcare, education and training programmes generally, against a background of often constrained resourcing available.

While there is a lot of good work going on across the sectors in supporting those with autism there is still much that can be done to ensure that they can reach their full potential. We would recommend that individuals take full advantage of the events on offer both today and for the rest of the week to develop greater awareness and understanding of autism.

• Stuart Jacob is director of Falkland House School, a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition