Here’s a summary of some of the things achieved from the strategy to date.
The title for the Midlothian Council Autism Strategy came from a family who shared their experience in the early stages of the strategy. The council involved Artlink Edinburgh and Lothians who commissioned writer Catherine Simpson, whose own daughter has autism, and grew up in Midlothian. She spent time with people with autism and their families, to capture their personal experiences which were used as the foundation for the strategy.
‘We heard from one mother about how her daughter became stressed when she kept forgetting her trumpet for high school music lessons so her teacher suggested she use two trumpets, one for home and the other for school. A second instrument was provided and her worries about missing trumpet lessons vanished overnight.
For a child who has Asperger’s Syndrome – which often comes hand in hand with high levels of anxiety – this solution made the difference between heading to school with a spring in her step and refusing to go at all. So simple and yet so effective.’
To understand the real life challenges for people, and how to respond to make real change, we have worked hard to find ways for people to comfortably share their knowledge and experiences. As much as possible we want to avoid meetings around a boardroom table.
Practically this has translated into:
- Inviting people with experience of autism to suggest events or ideas that were important to them.
- Creating themed working groups (Social, Lifelong Learning, Employment, Creative and Sports) which explore ideas and issues in a practical way.
- Setting up a dedicated Facebook pageand websiteso people can follow progress and get in touch.
One of our themed groups – the Creative Team proposed novel ways to share their experience as a way of reaching out to others. In March 2018, with support from the RS Macdonald Charitable Trust, we hosted an event in Loanhead Library bringing people together through shared connection to autism. The programme included:
- A comedy piece written by Engross Theatre Company – who are also parents to Doug, a young man with autism. They wanted to share their appreciation of their son’s unique sense of humour.
- A live performance from singer/songwriter Vicky Haylott – mum to Aiden whose view of the world has benefited her own perception.
- Readings from retired complex needs teacher Gail Keating who will shortly publish ‘Paper and Pens’ – a supportive text describing stories of how a student’s perspective helped her find ways to communicate on their terms.
The event resonated with local people and reached more people than the average Midlothian Council social media post. It was shared on Facebook and Twitter over 100 times with an audience reach of over 15,000, most often by people tagging in friends with ‘this looks interesting’. The event was attended by 80 people (parents, practitioners, commissioners and planners of services).
What happened next?
The challenges facing families and services providing support for autism are unprecedented, so the following initiatives have grown from real need, genuine collaboration and shared expertise in Midlothian. They are imaginative ways of dealing with the increasing pressures experienced.
- The Local Area Coordinators responded to calls from parents who highlighted a gap in health and social activity for women with autism in the Penicuik area by organising an regular ‘fab, fit and fun’ group in a local leisure centre.
- Midlothian Libraries, Barnardo’s and Artlink collaborated to create an autism specific youth club for students at Dalkeith High School Learning Base who had no opportunity to socialise outside of school. The funding from the Library Innovation Fund allowed Artlink to provide animation tuition from Edinburgh College of Art with support from Barnardo’s staff who specialise in providing clubs for young people with autism in Edinburgh.
- Autism specific coaching training are planned for all Midlothian Leisure coaches in partnership with autism specialist football organisation Team United.
- NHS Speech and Language have secured funding from Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation to provide BoardMaker pictorial communication support for public use in three Midlothian libraries.
- Autism Network Scotland Annual Conference featured workshops informed by the unique skills of Midlothian people with autism from the Scottish Government’s Autism Innovation and Development Fund. Katie Buchanan delivered a makeover session, Gavin Anderson led a drawing workshop, John Fletcher spoke about his role in developing activity for his son Christopher’s ‘Little Book of Magic’ and Artlink presented Colin’s Collection’ – objects designed by support staff from someone’s sensory interests.
- JP Morgan’s Force for Good Programme will work with Artlink to devise a mobile app to discover Midlothian through the eyes of people with complex needs. A team of software engineers will help support workers or parents find activity which relates to unique interests such as ‘Where’s the best tunnel for echo in Midlothian?’ or ‘Ideas for people who love reflection’ or ‘Where can my son cycle his trike away from traffic’. This project will involve teachers, parents, support staff and local organisations to archive a network of knowledge and ideas.
Our common challenge will be how to sustain these collaborative efforts and continue to build on the collective knowledge between people with autism, families and services.
If you’d like to get involved, please get in touch with Duncan McIntyre, Midlothian Council 0131 271 3632