I have worked with children and young people with autism for my entire working life (11 years). As a result, I am keen to promote autism awareness and acceptance in order to ensure those with autism reach their full potential. The more people are aware of autism, the more likely for people to become accepting of it.
I feel that the general public are more aware of autism. A number of factors have contributed to this. There are more news stories about autistic people, an increasing number of documentaries, tv programmes and films are being made about autism and the diagnosis rate for autism continues to rise.
This awareness is wonderful. Keeping autism in the forefront is brilliant. But acceptance is a completely different issue. Here in the UK, around 15% of autistic adults are in full time employment. This isn’t good enough! 1 in 100 people in the UK have autism. That’s around 700,000 people. These statistics don’t factor in the families that are living with autism.
So what is autism? Autism is a lifelong developmental disability. It impacts the way a person communicates, relates to others and their understanding of the world around them. It is thought that around 80% of those with autism experience sensory sensitivities. In other words, a person with autism can be over or under sensitive to textures, tastes, smells, sights or sounds.
Imagine going to sleep and waking in up in a foreign country. You don’t speak the native language so you can’t communicate effectively with the local people. The social rules are completely different to yours. The local customs make no sense. You can’t understand any of the signs providing information.
How would you feel?
How would you react?
What would you do to deal with the situation?
What coping strategies might you use?
I ask these questions in order for you to gain a glimpse into how someone with autism experiences the world around them everyday. For me, the foreign country scenario would make me feel anxious and scared. I have no idea how I would react. So is it any wonder that those with autism can display unusual coping strategies or challenging behaviour?
Bearing all this in mind, it is important to know that autism is a spectrum disorder. It affects people in different ways. All those with autism will experience difficulties in three areas; social communication, social interaction and social imagination. Examples of these are:
– little or no verbal communication
– good verbal communication but poor understanding of the rules of conversation e.g. repeating what has been said to them, interrupting others, talking about their own interests
– literal understanding of language including jokes and sarcasm
– poor understanding of non-verbal communication e.g. facial expressions, hand gestures, tone of voice
– difficulties understanding someone elses emotions and feelings
– difficulties expressing their own emotions and feelings
– difficulties establishing and maintaining friendships
– preference for routines and rituals. Can struggle when these change.
– find it hard to cope in new, unpredictable situations
– understand that others have different opinions
– lack of imaginative play e.g. prefer to line up objects, reenact scenes from a favourite film or tv programme
Some people with autism have special interests. These can be wide anything and everything. Special interests might change frequently.
Unlike physical disabilities, autism is seen as a ‘hidden disability’. People do not ‘look’ autistic. I am a carer for two teenagers; a 13 year old boy with autism and a 13 year old girl with Down’s Syndrome. When out and about, most people smile and seem understanding of the girl with Down’s Syndrome I work with. The same cannot be said for the autistic boy I support. Some members do not know how to take a 5ft 8 teenage boy who his jumping up and down, flapping his hands and asking lots of questions about a range of topics. This just shows how misunderstood autism is by some people.
I see autism as a different way of thinking. The world would be incredibly boring if we all thought the same. So next time you see someone who might be behaving differently or struggling in a situation, take a moment to consider the possibility that they might have autism.
Gemma is a carer/support worker for disabled children and is passionate about autism awareness. She lives with her husband and dachshund in Wigan, England. Gemma describes herself as a keen gym goer, bookworm and a fan of rock and metal music. On her blog, Lost to the Dark, Gemma blogs about her personal experiences of living with anxiety and depression. She hopes her blog spreads awareness and understanding of anxiety and depression.