A Catastrophic Loss for Autism Families in Scotland

We received an email last night telling us that we are about to lose the only autism specific support and resource we have in our area.

Perth Autism Support (http://www.perthautismsupport.org.uk/) is a charity that receives no funding from Perth and Kinross Council or NHS Tayside, yet both consistently and regularly refer all autism families to them.  PAS are critical in the lives of families affected by autism in Perth and Kinross and as of today (Friday 18th August 2017), due to no funding, they have no choice but to close all services.

We are now totally unsupported.

Let me be clear, PAS have an excellent management team and staff body who have worked tirelessly for the past five years to provide an unparalleled service to families and professionals in the area.

Their unique blend of experience, expertise, resources/equipment, staff, and compassion make them the first port of call for us all but it also makes them irreplaceable.  They know every one of the 650 children/young people that they support.  They know their names, faces, quirks, needs, preferences, characters and families.  It is no mean feat to earn the trust and love of a family affected by autism and PAS has earnt ours ten times over.  They are invaluable to families like ours.

They provide courses, education, advocacy, peer support, support to schools, socialisation, activities, outings, respite, information, equipment, resources, knowledge, hugs, a listening ear and hope.

We moved to Scotland to give the girls a better way of life, but, life without support is not one where they are likely to achieve their full potential.

I don’t mind admitting I am heart broken and scared.  Parenting is hard enough, add in additional needs and it gets even harder and lonelier.  To lose our only support in this area is a catastrophic blow.

This is not a case of charity mismanagement by bureaucrats, it is quite simply even more sinister.  It is a case of a local council shirking their responsibility to adhere to government strategy by not issuing funding where it is required.

I’d hazard a guess that the knock on effect of this closure on other departments and budgets (eg education, health, mental health, social care, housing, and law enforcement), will be exponentially more than the cost of maintaining this vital service.  The very definition of a false economy.  Perth and Kinross Council, your short sightedness is as callous as it is appalling.

The Scottish government implemented The Scottish Strategy for Autism in 2011 (http://www.autismstrategyscotland.org.uk/) stating that “Autism is a national priority” and that “The Scottish Government will provide strategic leadership on improving the lives of people affected by autism. It will lead on creating a strategic vision for the development of services and support for people with autism, their families and carers.”

This disastrous closure is a failure which exposes The Strategy as nothing more than lip service and propaganda.   The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) desperately need to re-evaluate the deliverance of The Strategy and councils need to be held to account.

Come on Scotland, you can do better than this.

Why Funding Matters

As regular followers know Tiny Miss H suffers from hypermobility and hypotonia.  In real terms what this means is she isn’t as physically competent as her peers.

Technically, she has now incredibly reached her major milestones (after years of intense therapy) but she is neither confident nor consistent with her abilities and as a result mainstream activities are often not suitable for her.

We work hard on her physio exercises – we have equipment in the playroom and incorporate therapy into her play all the time.  We work hard, make it fun and get results but it doesn’t compare to being out and about taking part, socialising and having the variety of classes that most children access.  So we also have a blend of activities outside the home that we attend, to support her development as well as give her some fun.

She takes part in a mainstream ballet class and this works well.  At this age it’s fine because she is in a class with children younger than her who are at the same level.  As she grows older we will see whether the difference in her ability and stamina impact on her ability to keep up and attain the levels alongside her peers as they progress.

She also takes part in mainstream gymnastics – the exercises are adapted to suit her and she takes breaks in between to fully rest so she is not overdoing it.  Again there is a range of abilities and ages so at the moment she is not too conspicuous in her differences to the other children.  The classes are very taxing for her, loud, crowded, fast-paced and very hard for her.

However she is beginning to notice her differences and comment on them.  They are making her sad.  This obviously impacts on her self-esteem and confidence which is already very shaky.

The teachers worked so hard with her to achieve an assisted forward roll in class so she could get her first certificate.  She hasn’t been able to do a forward roll since so I think it’s a grey area!  The boost to her esteem of being awarded that certificate far outweighs the importance of whether she actually qualifies for it!  I think its lenience rather than cheating and I’m OK with that.  It works for entry level at age five.  But as she gets older and her peers progress at a rate unmatched by Tiny – what will happen to her self-esteem?  That’s why boosting it now is so important and I am so grateful to the teachers for their generosity.

Tiny has also been attending a motor co-ordination class which she was referred to by the physiotherapist. It is targeted for children with additional support needs and differing abilities.  She loves it.  She always goes in enthusiastically and works her hardest.  She’s relaxed and herself.  The activities vary each week and she can see her own progress.  It’s a smaller class than any mainstream classes and as a result Tiny gets the individual, personalised help she needs to complete each activity.  She also gets time to take things at her own pace.  And she is the same as all the other children who are importantly also her age.  She recognises their struggles in her own and she recognises their achievements as much as her own.  She’s with her tribe, she belongs. It’s a lovely atmosphere with kind, supportive staff who have been specially trained and who obviously care about all the children.

This is currently the only input we get from physiotherapy.  I manage her therapy at home and to be honest am not qualified to know how to progress each exercise or to adapt to target new areas safely.  To be quite frank I’m making it up as I go along.  I’ve learned loads from watching the professionals and implement it successfully at home but that is no substitute for the years of training and qualifications the experts have.  I’m not enough for my daughter to keep progressing.

Sadly until she falls behind significantly we won’t get outside help.  There just isn’t the funding.  She’s not ‘disabled enough’ I’ve been told.   I’ve shot myself in the foot, because I’ve done so much to help her she is now too able to get any help, yet she still needs help… we slip through the net.  We are in effect punished for our hard work and proactive early intervention.  The lack of external recognition for her hard work is disappointing. Her persistence at her therapy is to be applauded and she deserves recognition for her incredible achievements.  For me fire-fighting after we have hit rock bottom isn’t an option.  My whole philosophy of parenting is that of ‘early intervention is key’.  After she was diagnosed with ‘never likely being able to walk’, with the input and support we used to get we (I) taught her to walk – that didn’t come from nowhere.  Without the constant input she will fall behind and cease to thrive.  So there is no let up and I’m happy for that but I need support, I need help and I need guidance.

So I was desperately sad to find out today that the motor co-ordination programme is stopping due to lack of funding with immediate effect.  Tiny cried when she found out.  So did I.

It is not just about her physical development, it is about her emotional development and her mental health.  It’s about so much more than being able to stand on one leg with her eyes shut, it’s about being able to stand on her own two feet amongst her peers.  It’s about self-worth and it’s about giving these little people an equal chance at achieving their potential.

If you are in a decision making position with regard to funding of any sort please understand the full consequences of your tough decisions.  It really matters.