Ruth Maguire MSP has welcomed a new national support service announced by the Scottish Government to help children and adults diagnosed with autism to understand and embrace their identity.

Backed by £250,000 Scottish Government funding, the pilot National Post Diagnostic Support Programme will be led by Scottish Autism, in partnership with the National Autistic Society, Autism Initiatives and Autistic People’s Organisations.

The service will provide online support on a range of issues, offer practical help and connect autistic people and their families with peers.

A new awareness campaign, which aims to challenge stigma and myths to give the general public a clearer understanding of autism, is also being launched.

The SNP MSP said: “This programme launched by the Scottish Government to support people with autism is a welcome development aimed at building more inclusive communities.

“The support being offered will help autistic people and their families embrace their identity while raising awareness to challenge the stigma associated with autism and build understanding and compassion among the general public.”

Speaking at the national Scottish Strategy for Autism’s annual conference, held virtually this year, Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey said: “We know that the restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have been particularly hard for autistic people and their families, with normal routines changed dramatically.

“This new programme will allow autistic people across Scotland to access vital support, building on the excellent services already provided by third sector organisations, which have been well adapted to continue throughout the pandemic.

“We also know that there is sadly still a stigma associated with autism, and that’s why we today we are also launching our ‘Different minds. One Scotland ’campaign.

“Crucially, the campaign has been developed with autistic people. It aims to help the public understand autism, to be more accepting of the different qualities and attributes of autistic people.”

Autistic spokesperson Jasmine said: “The way I view the world is shaped by me being autistic, and my experiences have been shaped by me being autistic. I want to ensure that there is at least one autistic child who feels a little bit less alone – a little bit less like the world is against them – then I’d feel like the campaign has accomplished everything it set out to.”

Charlene Tait, Deputy CEO at Scottish Autism said: “The delivery of a national post diagnostic service is a much needed and welcome step forward in Scotland. This new service brings the collective knowledge and experience of several charity partners that will work collaboratively to provide a wide range of information and support for autistic people of all ages and their families.

“This new service will focus on ensuring families are better informed and empowered after a diagnosis whilst also supporting autistic individuals to embrace their identity and widen their peer group.”