Aberdeenshire to become Scotland's first autism-friendly region

Ahead of World Autism Awareness Day (2 April), Aberdeenshire Council has announced a new partnership with The National Autistic Society Scotland which will make the area Scotland’s first ‘autism-friendly’ region.

The Autism-Friendly Aberdeenshire project will take place over one year, and strives to increase public understanding of the condition, help facilities in the area become more accessible, and develop new groups to meet the needs and interests of autistic residents.

This comes as a new report (Too Much Information: why the public needs to understand autism better) from The National Autistic Society Scotland revealed how poor public understanding is pushing autistic people and their families into isolation, and in some cases making them feel trapped in their own homes.

The charity’s survey of autistic people, family members and professionals in Scotland found that:
• 90 per cent of families say people stare at behaviour associated with their child’s autism
• 73 per cent say they tut or make disapproving noises
• 85 per cent of autistic people say they are judged as being strange

The survey also revealed that over time this becomes too much to bear, and autistic people and their families begin retreat from public life. Almost half (44 per cent) sometimes don’t go out because they’re worried about how people will react, and 66 percent of autistic people said they feel socially isolated.

Jenny Paterson, director of The National Autistic Society Scotland, said: “This is a really innovative and exciting project. We’ll be working with autistic people in Aberdeenshire and their families to develop support and interest groups, and identify facilities in the area that should become more accessible.

“We’ll also be working with residents to help them understand the condition. We have some really interesting ways of doing this – which include using virtual reality equipment!

“It is unacceptable that autistic people in Scotland feel they have to shut themselves away for fear of being judged by the public. I’m really pleased Aberdeenshire Council is working with us to make the area autism-friendly. It’s a hugely important first step to Scotland becoming an autism-friendly nation.”

Philip English, head of adult services and criminal justice at Aberdeenshire Council, said: “We have seen the difference Dementia Friendly Communities has made in areas of Aberdeenshire where they have been introduced, and we want to create a similar environment for autistic people. 
“Aberdeenshire Council therefore tendered for a provider to deliver ‘Autism Friendly Aberdeenshire’ project and we are pleased to be working with The National Autistic Society Scotland on this initiative.
“The aim of this project is to build capacity as well as sustainable processes in communities across Aberdeenshire which will allow autistic people to have improved access to services.
“We also hope it will lead to a better understanding of autism and to break down some of the barriers faced by people on a daily basis.”

The National Autistic Society Scotland is holding a Spring Fayre at its Ellon office on on 8 and 9 April for games, a pop up shop of goods made by people we support, and a prize raffle. To find out more, please call the office on 01358 724407.