THE vast majority of people in Scotland with autism still struggle to get the support they need, according to a major review which identifies widespread weaknesses in the country’s approach to the disability.

Although welcoming “sporadic areas of genuine progress”, the document highlights the view that the “ambition and aspiration” expressed in the Scottish Strategy For Autism has “not been realised in practice”.

Just under 78 per cent of those based in Scotland and surveyed by the National Autistic Society (NAS), one of the organisations that wrote the review, indicated they had found it easy to get the help they require in their local area. And nearly 37% of respondents reported feeling “not at all supported” in the 12 months following diagnosis.

Significant challenges for those with autism were found at all levels of society – from schools and workplaces to housing and healthcare settings – and across age groups.

The review’s authors were also told that some individuals had been left feeling suicidal by the lack of assistance.

Produced by NAS Scotland and Scottish Autism in their capacity as joint secretariat to Holyrood’s Cross-Party Group On Autism, the report outlines a series of recommendations, including the creation of another strategy to build on the current one that was published in November 2011.

It also advises the establishment in law of a commissioner tasked with ensuring good policy and legislation are implemented.

The Scottish Government has said it is willing to explore the “introduction of a Commission or Commissioner to monitor the protection of people’s rights”.

There are approximately 56,000 autistic adults and children north of the Border and those working to improve their welfare said radical reforms would be needed.

Dorry McLaughlin, chief executive of Scottish Autism, said: “While the vision behind the Scottish Strategy For Autism is sound, autistic people and their families continue to struggle for vital support.

“Too many autistic people are falling through the cracks between services, too many autistic pupils are being excluded from school because their needs are not being met, and too many individuals are unable to find employment or a meaningful vocation.

“It’s clear we need systemic change. As this report suggests, this will only be achieved if we see improved accountability for upholding autistic people’s human rights in Scotland.”

The review also stresses the importance of providing adequate care in Scottish education, with data indicating a sharp increase in the number of pupils registered as having additional support needs.

While welcoming the development of new resources and the formation of the Autism In Schools working group, it says a number of individuals spoken to expressed concern over awareness of the disability among teaching staff.

Some parents were even threatened with action for not being able to ensure their child attends school on a regular basis.

The review adds that introducing a “baseline of autism knowledge into the Initial Teacher Education framework” will be crucial.

And, on the issue of careers, it highlights a feeling among autistic people that they face a dearth of meaningful employment opportunities, with in-work support a “constant battle” for many.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As we committed to do, we are independently evaluating the Strategy and this work has already started. Autistic people, their families and service providers will be able to be part of the evaluation and provide their views.

“The Government remains fully committed to ensuring everyone gets the right help to achieve their potential and the required support to address the barriers and inequalities they face, including those with neurodevelopmental conditions.”