IN 2019, Scottish Autism together with partners, Children in Scotland and National Autistic Society Scotland published Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved: a report on the experiences of autistic children missing school. This work highlighted that many autistic children were missing out on their fundamental right to an education.

As we slowly emerge from lockdown and begin to transition back to a semblance of pre-Covid 19 society, it is now critical that we keep the spotlight on this agenda and resist placing the needs of autistic children at the bottom of what is becoming an increasingly growing national ‘To Do’ list.

A recently released study by Dr Chris Papadopoulos from Bedfordshire’s Institute for Health Research, Dr Georgia Pavlopoulou of University College London, and Dr Rebecca Wood from University of East London outlined how the coronavirus lockdown impacted on families of autistic children and young people.

It found, perhaps unsurprisingly, 70% of family carers reported a change to their daily routine. More importantly, it reported that 86% of parents of autistic children felt lack of government support during lockdown but with many stating they did not want a return to the pre-Covid world.

This position is entirely understandable in light of the many issues and challenges autistic children and their families face including unlawful exclusion from school. Our campaign research helped shine a light on the very human cost of this practice which includes high levels of stress and anxiety among children and their families as well as the economic disadvantages this creates for them, these have been particularly felt during lockdown when many parents were left without any form of support.

The Not Included, Not Engaged, Not involved campaign showed that, for many autistic learners, current education provision is far from ideal. With that in mind, we should consider the opportunities for alternative learning presented by the global pandemic; rather than this being a time to regress and put much-needed progress on the backburner, we need to use it as a catalyst for change. We need to listen to families with autistic children and do things differently and better when it comes to providing education.

It is not enough to tinker at the edges – transformation and systemic change are required. We need to seize this moment and be more inclusive by working with autistic children, their parents and other supportive allies in achieving this outcome.

Considering the phenomenal and ongoing efforts being made to get Scotland’s children back to school next month, now is the time to put an end to the frustrating and often siloed thinking in how education policies are determined and budgets are allocated. While investment into resources, support materials, and technology is hugely welcome, this will only take us so far. Providing mainstream education opportunities for autistic children requires people – well trained people – and this requires adequate and sustained financial resources.

We also need to see cultural change with recognition that there is a real threat to the mental health and wellbeing of autistic children if we fail to enable genuine inclusivity and acceptance. Autistic learners are best placed to judge when and if that is achieved. While government policy supports inclusion, implementation, all too often, does not. True inclusion must be seamless so it can be felt.

The situation demands that we think beyond transition to transformation and make our schools and other services a place where they can feel included, engaged, involved and safe.

Charlene Tait, Deputy CEO at Scottish Autism