Council slammed as autism group winds up

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Colin Cameron

After 18 years of supporting people affected by autism, a group set up by families, for families, voted last week to wind itself up.

The final Annual General Meeting of Autism Argyll at Arrochar’s Three Villages Hall on on September 13 was an occasion filled with emotion – and plenty of tears.

Alison Leask and Maureen MacIntosh were founder members of Autism Argyll back in 2000, and in her final chairperson’s report Alison said: ‘This is a bittersweet moment for the organisation, particularly for Maureen and myself.’

There are a number of reasons why Autism Argyll has decided to wind up its operation, said Alison. Having moved to Glasgow, Alison can no longer chair the group as a non-Argyll resident. She added that there is a degree of ‘committee fatigue’ among the group, while the computer equipment used by Autism Argyll is getting past its sell-by date.

But the most significant factor in ending Autism Argyll, said Alison, is a lack of support from senior management at Argyll and Bute Council over many years.

She said: ‘Argyll and Bute has an agreed and published Autism Strategy, which the authority commissioned Scottish Autism to produce. There is also an implementation plan. However, neither is promoted and both are largely ignored.

‘The only time senior management appear to take any interest in those individuals and families living with autism is if it they think it is going to cost the authority money.

‘At senior manager level, Argyll and Bute Council has rejected our knowledge, rebuffed our experiences, frustrated our efforts, sapped our enthusiasm, drained our goodwill and defeated us.’

There is good news, however. Operating in Argyll and Bute with the support of Scottish Autism, the Get Set 4 Autism project provides online resources for professionals dealing with autism.

Parents of recently diagnosed children also have access to an autism advisor and the Right Click online programme, helping to provide clear, timely and sensible information and support.

Alison continued: ‘Autism Argyll has raised awareness, improved knowledge and understanding, and forged partnerships with individuals and organisations such as Scottish Autism. We should be proud of our achievements.’

Responding to the criticism, an Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson said: ‘We are saddened that Autism Argyll has been dissolved and we thank the organisation for its work down the years to educate the wider community on autism and to support people living with the condition.

‘We are working with our partners, including Cornerstone and Scottish Autism, on the development of residential resources in Garelochhead and Helensburgh, and also to improve services for people with autism across Argyll and Bute by way of introducing and implementing the Autism Toolbox.

‘Additionally, we have engaged with Autism Network Scotland for their assistance in further implementing our autism strategy, and these meetings will continue.’

Responsibility for autism support also falls under the remit of Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership, and a spokesman confirmed that it had advertised for a new autism practitioner.

He added: ‘We have been working closely with our partners to support those individuals living in Argyll and Bute with autism and we have been exploring how we can build on the current services that are available. ‘


Back to the beginning – Autism Argyll is formed in 2000. no_a38AutismArgyll01

Committee members past and present gather for the last-ever Autism Argyll AGM. 06_a38AutismArgyll03

It was an emotional occasion for founder members Maureen MacIntosh, left, and chairwoman Alison Leask. 06_a38AutismArgyll02