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Government guidance on autism to be rewritten as mum finds flaws

The Scottish Government has been forced to rewrite its guidance on autism after a complaint from a parent highlighted that the information was "flawed".

Christine Mahony's son Lewis has severe autism and learning difficulties. For the past 11 years, the family has used Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) to help develop his skills and overcome "extremely challenging behaviour problems".

Without ABA, which breaks down skills into small, achievable components, Ms Mahony questions whether Lewis, 13, would have been able to live with them. "During the first session we began teaching him to sit on a chair," she said. "Little by little, using praise and reward, we have built up from there. ABA is not a cure, but it can reach some children, like my son, for whom no other intervention worked."

But the description of ABA in the "Autism Toolbox", launched in April last year by the Scottish Government, was "inaccurate, 30 years out of date, and made no mention of recent research findings which indicate clear evidence of benefit", Ms Mahony claimed.

The summary of ABA in the guidance said that positive findings had been found to be "scientifically unsound" and "robust evidence of effectiveness had not been achieved".

Following Ms Mahony's complaint, the Scottish Government brought in independent experts to review the guidance. They concluded that the inaccuracies contained within the ABA section were so significant that they could not be supported by any of the prevailing views. Now the entire "overview of interventions" section is to be rewritten after the experts found other factual inaccuracies.

Adam Ingram, Minister for Children and Early Years, has written to local authorities, warning them not to base decisions solely on the information on interventions described in the guidance.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Autism Toolbox was written by a multi-professional team, overseen by a working group. A single section - the overview of interventions - is being updated to ensure that it continues to reflect the most up-to-date advice available, in what is an area of developing research with a wide range of views from professionals."

Ms Mahony praised the Government for its prompt response. "I thought I might have been fobbed off and ignored," she said.

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