SCOTS are being encouraged to share their views on “aspirational” legislation which could see Scotland become the first country in the world to have an autism commissioner.

Despite feeling disconnected and showing signs of thinking in different ways when they were younger, Charleen Morton and Carrie Watts had both become parents before they discovered they were autistic through their children being diagnosed with the condition.

After experiencing first-hand the difficulties and stigma autistic and neurodivergent people face in their everyday lives, both of them are now desperate to see as many people as possible make their opinions known about the Scottish Government’s Learning Disabilities, Autism and Neurodivergence Bill.

The legislation – being consulted on until April 21 - includes proposals for more inclusive communications and mandatory training in the public sector to address the barriers faced by people with autism, neurodivergence and learning disabilities.

It also includes a world-leading plan to implement an autism commission or commissioner to uphold and protect the rights of autistic people across the board.

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The Scottish Government has highlighted evidence that people with learning disabilities die on average 20 years earlier than the rest of the population while autistic people are nine times more likely to die by suicide, with a  major contributing factor being the stigma they face.

Watts (below) said the Scottish Government should be applauded for its bravery in putting forward the bill, but insisted it is vital the neurodivergent community engage with the consultation to ensure proposals are not watered down.

The 47-year-old from Inverness told the Sunday National: “I think the Scottish Government should be commended for trying to address this because it needs to be. It's aspirational and it's fabulous. I hope there will be a continued bravery in the way they move forward with it.

“We very rarely get opportunities like this to affect the long term outcomes for people and the public should get involved.

“Everyone will know an autistic person so we should all be getting involved to shape better outcomes for so many people.”

The National:

Morton, 46, added: “If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got. We need people to speak up. 

“If we can get a commissioner to help autistic people get more support and live independently, that will not just help autistic people but will help across the board.”

A report produced by the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism in 2023 showed how 96% of 1215 people surveyed supported creating an independent commissioner who could hold local and central government to account, promote good practice and ensure autistic people have a “powerful ally” embedded in law they can turn to.

The top proposed duties of the commissioner from the report in order were: Hold local authorities, service providers and the Scottish Government to account; promote an understanding of autism to the wider public; support individuals and families to address issues and make complaints, and gather data on meeting autistic people’s needs.

Watts said a commissioner is needed to ensure there is more accountability for how autistic people are treated and cared for.

She said: “There is a misconception that disability equals unworthiness. Autistic people are caught in this situation where we are disabled by certain physical aspects of autism, but then we are further disabled by society.

“People have a very 1950s perspective on what it means to be autistic and how that looks in the modern day world.  

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“I think there needs to be accountability. When you offer suggestions and guidance, you’re not holding anyone accountable for anything.

“The only way we can create genuine change that will lead to better outcomes for autistic people is to have someone there as an oversight who can say ‘this policy is discriminatory’ or ‘this practice is hurting autistic people’.”

Morton (below), from Arbroath, added: “There’s too many children being left after school in bedrooms with no quality of life at all because there’s no help there.

The National:

“You’ve got autistic people who go to university and are high flyers, but there’s huge percentages of people in the middle and no one is there for them.

“These are the kids that don’t attend school and end up at home with very poor mental health.”

Both Morton and Watts - who are volunteers with the National Autistic Society - argued mandatory training for the likes of police officers, emergency service workers and school staff is essential while they will also be putting forward arguments for autism to be clearly defined separately from mental health problems.

Watts said: “Autistic people can experience distress and require the services of mental health professionals that have nothing to do with being autistic.”

The Scottish Government’s consultation, which has been co-developed with people with lived experience, can be filled out by clicking here.