Congratulations to our volunteer Gail McKeitch, who has been named in the New Year’s Honours list! Gail received a British Empire Medal in recognition of her work supporting autistic people living in the North East of Scotland.

She lives in Ellon with her husband Gordon. They have three sons, David (27), Greg (23) and Alan (21). Greg and Alan both have an autism diagnosis. Gail and Gordon work part-time in addition to caring for their sons. Gail set up our Ellon Branch in 2008, and has been its chair ever since. This community hub provides information and organises local events for more than 120 families. She said, 

I hope this helps to raise awareness of autism and the many families like ours who struggle with the daily demands of supporting those with this very complex condition.

“I started volunteering because I felt there wasn’t enough support and information available to parents both at point of diagnosis and through difficult times. It brings huge rewards for all those involved – especially the person with autism.”

As part of the celebrations around her honour, Gail will be invited to a Royal Garden Party this summer. She said, “All those who know me well will be thinking – yet another new outfit for Gail!”

Jenny Paterson, director of The National Autistic Society Scotland, said, “Gail felt there wasn’t enough local support available when her sons received their autism diagnoses, and she wanted to ensure that no other parent had that experience. That’s why she set up our Ellon volunteer branch.

“Gail dedicates all her free time to supporting others. She is an inspiration, and I am so glad the contribution she makes to autistic people in the North East and their families has been recognised with a BEM.”

Gail has raised more than £25,000 for the Ellon Branch of The National Autistic Society Scotland since 2008. In addition to being the branch's chair, she co-wrote the Aberdeen Council Autism Strategy and set up a group to help autistic young people to improve their social skills.

A mum who has been supported by Gail said, “Gail has touched our lives and I can’t ever repay her for everything she has done for my family. She is truly amazing.

We have had laughs and tears over the years and I am very grateful for her helping me to understand my son better and be the parent he deserves to have.

"Although we still have our struggles, I can cope because she has helped me to understand autism.”

Gail was a finalist at the Great Scot Unsung Hero Awards 2015 and she won an SCVO Scottish Charity Champion Award in 2014. She was a Baton Bearer for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership have launched a bid for Aberdeenshire to become Scotland’s fist autism-friendly region. The project, delivered by The National Autistic Society Scotland, will increase public understanding of autism, encourage local amenities to become more accessible, and develop groups for autistic people. The Ellon Branch, led by Gail, will play an important role in helping Aberdeenshire to achieve this goal.