Parliamentary Debates

Autism

Dennis Robertson (Aberdeenshire West) (SNP):  Like my fellow colleagues, I congratulate Mark McDonald not just on bringing the debate to the chamber but on being a champion and an ambassador for autism and on raising awareness of the condition not just here in Parliament but in his home city of Aberdeen. I, too, welcome the guests who are in the public gallery and those who are live streaming the debate.

Presiding Officer, you were absolutely right to congratulate those who helped the Parliament to achieve accreditation in relation to autism. In particular, I commend Aneela McKenna, who is the Parliament’s equalities manager. As someone who is dedicated to looking at all aspects of disability, she is a wonderful asset to the Parliament. We should congratulate all the people who ensured that the Parliament won the wonderful autism access award. As my colleague Mark McDonald said, the Parliament is the first public building in Scotland to win that remarkable award, but it should not be the last.

I believe that the Parliament will serve as the foundation for Scotland to achieve the status of being an autism-friendly nation. The Parliament is showing the way. It should serve as an example for others to follow. People can visit the Parliament with a degree of assurance that they will not encounter the barriers that they often meet.

As Nanette Milne said, even visiting a supermarket or a shop to buy toys can be extremely upsetting for children with autism and can raise their anxiety to a level that many of us cannot understand. I congratulate Toys “R” Us on its initiative, but one day out of 365 is not enough to enable young people with autism to enjoy the experience of choosing a toy or playing in that environment.

There are organisations that support people with autism. In my constituency, the charity SensationALL brings together people with different disabilities, many of whom are on the autism spectrum. It has a sensory area where people can enjoy playing in the knowledge that they are not inhibited by loud noise or bright lights, which can affect them because of their heightened sensory awareness.

I was listening earlier to a wonderful animated film on understanding autism made by Scottish Autism. I had not realised that it was an animation. It describes, in very calm detail, the surroundings in which we all live. One story is about a young boy playing in the park with his mum. When he decides that it is time to go home, he shows his card with a drawing of a house on it to indicate that he has had enough. That is his best way to show that he wants to go home. There is also a story about a young girl at school who is getting excited about the school dance. Her friend excitedly asks, “What are you wearing?” The young girl, Lisa, responds by describing her school uniform. She took the meaning of “What are you wearing?” too literally. That is her world.

We need to understand the world of people with autism, how we communicate with them and how our environment creates barriers. We should not disable people with autism; rather, we should embrace their needs and find out ways, as we have done in the Parliament, to be inclusive.

We have ambitions for all people with disabilities. As Malcolm Chisholm said, we need to acknowledge that we are all different. That difference is not a failing; rather, we should be proud of it. We should not hide behind being different—that is what makes us who we are. I applaud that difference.

 

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