National Autistic Society Scotland has welcomed changes to the ‘Stay at Home’ rules from Scottish Government which allow for autistic people who need to leave home more than once a day to exercise or travel beyond their local area should they need to for health reasons.

However, a number of autistic people and families with autistic children have contacted the charity reporting that they have been told to go home by Police, or threatened with fines. While we have heard some positive stories of the police responding appropriately, we have also heard from families reporting that Police seem either unaware of the change in guidance or are insensitive to it.

National Autistic Society Scotland has written to the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Iain Thomas Livingstone asking that police officers across Scotland are made aware of the changes to the ‘Stay at home’ guidance.

Amended Guidance issued from the Scottish Government makes it clear that, if you’re autistic or have a learning disability, you can leave your home more than once a day and travel beyond your local area if this is important to your health. If you need carers with you, they don’t have to stay the two metres apart from you that is usually required by social distancing. However, it is still important to be careful and only go out when you really need to, to reduce the chance of getting ill or infecting other people.

Nick Ward, Director of the National Autistic Society Scotland said:

“The lockdown has fundamentally changed life and this can be very challenging for Scotland’s 58,000 autistic people, where for many, exercising in a safe way is very important to their physical and mental health and wellbeing.

We welcome the amended rules from the Scottish Government but are extremely concerned not all Police officers are aware of the changes or are interpreting them correctly. We have today written to Police Scotland and have urged Government to promote the new guidance appropriately so all are aware.”


Caroline, a mother with an autistic child from Dundee

The lock down has been really difficult for my son and the stress can lead to some very challenging behaviour when he gets frustrated and upset. It’s great the rules and changed for autistic people and driving to the nearby park (it’s unsafe for him to walk along the road) where he can feed the ducks and play safely is an absolute life line for us and I can see the difference it makes to his mental health – it calms him.

I was really upset when recently the Police told us to turn around otherwise they would fine me. They said they needed to see a GP letter. I offered our social worker’s phone number but they refused.

Our GP can’t provide a letter as understandably they are busy and to be honest it seems like a waste of medical professionals’ time during this pandemic.

I know other parents who were planning on finally getting out as the rules had been changed but are now too scared so are still stuck at home, often with very distressed children. Even just the possibility of being stopped by Police and not managing to follow through with a plan will put off many families with autistic members.”

Notes to editors:

For more information, please contact Rob Holland the National Autistic Society Scotland at rob.holland@nas.org.uk or by calling 07958057363.

About

The National Autistic Society Scotland is a leading charity for autistic people in Scotland and their families. They provide local specialist help, information and care across Scotland to autistic people, their families and carers. Their Education Rights Service provides impartial, confidential information, advice and support on education rights and entitlements. www.autism.org.uk

Autism and the amended guidance from the Scottish Government

Amended ‘Stay at Home’ guidance from the Scottish Government states that:

You can leave your home for medical need. If you (or a person in your care) have a specific health condition that requires you to leave the home to maintain your health - including if that involves travel beyond your local area - then you can do so. This could, for example, include where individuals with learning disabilities or autism require specific exercise in an open space two or three times each day - ideally in line with a care plan agreed with a medical professional.

Even in such cases, in order to reduce the spread of infection and protect those exercising, travel outside of the home should be limited, as close to your local area as possible, and you should remain at least 2 metres apart from anyone who is not a member of your household or a carer at all times. More information on the Scottish Government website.

What is autism?

  • Autism is a lifelong disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.
  • There are approximately 58,000 autistic people in Scotland.
  • All autistic people have difficulties with communication and social interaction.
  • Autism is a spectrum. This means autistic people have their own strengths and varying and complex needs, from 24-hour care to simply needing clearer communication and a little longer to do things at work and school.
  • Although everyone is different, people on the autism spectrum may:
    • be under or oversensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours, which can make everyday life extremely difficult
    • be unable to or find it harder to speak, need longer to process information or find it hard to hold conversations
    • experience intense anxiety around unexpected change and in social situations
    • become so overwhelmed that they experience debilitating physical and emotional ‘meltdowns’ or ‘shutdowns’.