By Andy Margerison
Autism Initiative Project Officer, Dumfries & Galloway Council

Dumfries and Galloway is a very distinctive area of Scotland.  It is very extensive, more than 90 miles east to west and largely rural.  Each area of the county also has its own characteristics, maybe reflecting its varied and colourful history.  Until relatively recently Galloway was an almost autonomous part of Scotland and until the railway arrived in the 19th century very remote.

Consequently, each part of the county has developed its own support networks for all sorts of groups that reflect local need and demands.  This applies to services and support for people with autism, their families and carers.  One of my tasks as Autism Initiative Project Officer has been to bring these groups together, to share information and build a network across the region so providers and those people who need support have a better understanding of what is out there for them and who can help.

The cornerstones of this approach have been to build a network of providers with the support and facilitation of Lynsey Stewart from Autism Network Scotland.  This was launched at one of the Menu of Intervention Road show events held in Dumfries where we had representatives from a wide range of statutory and non-statutory organisations as well as people with autism, parents and carers.  This simple beginning has now developed into a network that spans the county, benefits from quarterly newsletter created by the Network and has begun to meet as a group of people to share ideas and plan events and develop a series of achievable aims.  World Autism Awareness Week is going to be the focus for the first multi-agency event of its type in Dumfries & Galloway. Information will be made available through the Network.

The second key stone has been to have two Autism Services Information events aimed for people with autism, parents, carers and professionals.  The first one was held in Castle Douglas in September and the second in Dumfries in January.  The format is simple and fairly easy to put together.  Organisations with an interest or an input into autism services are invited to have a stall to display their work and publicise what they provide.  Those invited have included national organisations like Scottish Autism and the National Autistic Society.  Local groups have been represented from the voluntary and non-statutory sectors, education, social services and the NHS.

People were encouraged to just drop in for a chat, or to get some advice or information. Over 100 people, a significant proportion of whom were parents or carers of people with autism, have been to the events and the feedback from those who have been is very favourable.  The absolute key to success of the events is the publicity.  I have used schools, social media, local radio posters and the organisations themselves to bring the event to the attention of people.  The next step is to hold a third event in the west of the county and establish these as regular events in the local calendar.