Published: 23/10/2007 00:00 - Updated: 25/11/2011 19:54

No support for people with brain disorder

Andrew Denovan's life was brought back from the brink.
Andrew Denovan's life was brought back from the brink.

ADULTS in Inverness with one of the commonest forms of brain disorder are being left with no support or services because officials have failed to implement the findings of a Scottish Executive-funded study. The Scottish Society of Autism's office in Inverness closed last month after finance was withdrawn — but none of the replacement services Highland Council and NHS Highland were supposed to create have yet been introduced. According to the Autism Rights Group Highland (ARGH), this means only those with the severest forms of the condition are being helped. "There is no service," said ARGH chairman Kerry Brook. "What services they do have, the majority of us don't meet the criteria to access them." Autism is a brain development disorder which affects one in 110 people in Scotland. It is characterised by impairments in social interaction, communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviour. The two-year study into the future needs of autism services in the Highlands was published in February and concluded that community care should be available to all adult sufferers. It recommended that Highland Council and NHS Highland's contract with the SSA be terminated and its activities, which included suicide prevention counselling, information, and training for health staff, be taken in-house. However, although funding for the charity has been withdrawn, no new services are yet operating. "They said that there was a serious need for services, but they have not done anything about it," Mrs Brook claimed. "It is discriminatory. "They need to do something now. At the very least, they need to have a crisis line. There is nothing just now and there is nowhere to go." Mrs Brook also blamed the SSA for letting autistic adults down. "I was quite upset and angry that when the funding was withdrawn they did not maintain the service," she said. "The SSA takes money from the public and it has cut the service in the Highlands, left us with nothing and blamed Highland Council. They just don't really seem to care." Group member Andrew Denovan believed the ending of the SSA's training for health professionals in Inverness was a major loss, as many specialists had little specific knowledge of the condition and its effects. "It is a bit like going to see a chiropractor if you need to see a psychologist," he said. "It is that damaging. There needs to be much greater understanding. "They all seem to be doing their best to make us feel isolated." Highland councillor Margaret Davidson (Aird and Loch Ness), who is chairwoman of the social work and housing committee, agreed that improvements needed to be made in the service offered to adults with autism, which falls behind improvements in children's services. But she stressed that universal services were available to autistic people with mental health issues or learning difficulties. "What people want is a more specialist services for people with autism," she said. "We are trying to decide the best way to respond to the recommendations of the consultation. "We are aware of the issues and we are talking to groups who have asked to see us about this," she said. "I hope we can see some progress but it all takes time and planning." No one from Highland Council was available to explain why funding for the SSA had been withdrawn before the recommendations of the report implemented. The SSA explained it was totally reliant on funding from agencies such as local authorities and health boards and had no alternative but to pull out of Inverness. "If a consortium got themselves together and made a grant application for a specific thing, then that is fine and we would be happy to be involved in that, but the funding has to be in place for that to happen," said a spokesman. He stressed that help was always available at the society on 01259 222022. Charity's help was a life-saver AUTISTIC drama student Andrew Denovan knows how fortunate he is. Only four years ago he was struggling to make ends meet, going from job to job to fund his alcohol addiction. He never quite fitted into society but did not realise why. He eventually had a breakdown, became addicted to prescription drugs and found himself homeless. "My life was a complete disaster," said the 39-year-old. "I was living on the edge of society." Then a JobCentre adviser recommended he contact the Scottish Society for Autism. "It was like another world when I entered the offices of the SSA in Inverness," he said. "They were understanding, they knew what autism was and they recognised it immediately. "Things were starting to make sense. They changed my life and gave me confidence in my own mind, in my intellect. I had always been labelled stupid but they saw something else. "They went beyond the call of duty. Without them, I just don't know. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have got into college, I wouldn't have found a house. They did so much for me." Mr Denovan taught himself to read and write is now studying drama at Inverness College and lives in Beechwood Road. h.paterson@inverness-courier.co.uk

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