27th March to 2nd April brings with it ‘World Autism Awareness’ week, with schools and homes across the country working hard to raise awareness of this condition.
Our editor Kirsty is passionate about this topic, as she has personal experience and in fact works with a charity, Add-Vance, who help to support the families of children diagnosed with ADHD and Autism.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a very brief guide explain simply and quickly what Autism is, where it comes from and how you can support family members to understand the condition further in the future, should you need to.
What is Autism?
Autism is classed medically as a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how a person communicates and experiences the world.
Many people consider it a ‘disability’, but whilst it certainly can be disabling and needs careful management, it is an absolute fact that many of history’s greatest minds showed severely autistic traits. It is not an illness or disease and cannot be caught.
The condition is called a ‘spectrum’ condition, with some people having worse traits in some areas then others. There can be issues with sensory needs, speech, social skills, understanding the body, anxiety, learning difficulties and co-morbid conditions like epilepsy.
Every person with Autism (or Autistic person depending on the individuals preference) is very different. Don’t be fooled the terms ‘classic autism’ or ‘high-functioning’ either.
Often highly intelligent, socially able autistic people struggle with anxiety so badly that they cannot cope in society. And some children who are thought to be at the more ‘severe’ end of the spectrum can be transformed with the right support.
It’s important to remember that there are a lot of myths about Autism. The ‘rainman’ idea is not at all accurate. Lots of autistic people can be very social, and whilst most have special interests not all are geniuses.
Where does it come from?
Noone knows with absolute certainty, but it is thought to behighly hereditary. The genetic profile is complex so having a child with autism doesn’t necessarily mean that a parent does but it is likely.
It is NOT developed by vaccinations, and is not ‘given’ to a child with certain types of parenting. It also cannot be cured, and many people are deeply offended by the idea that it would need to be.
People tend to grow ‘into’ the condition, rather than grow out of it and there are currently thought to be around 700’000 people living with it in the UK (autism.org).
How does it feel?
All Autistic report experiencing the condition very differently. We don’t think that non-autistic people should try to explain how it feels, so instead we’re sharing some resources from those who are, but do check out places like The National Autistic Society for more information.
How can you help?
The first thing is to learn as much as you can. There are events all over the country by speakers like Sarah Henrickx, Alex Lowery, Dean Beadle, and many other experts in the field. These are often funded so can be very low cost. Read (All Cats Have Autism is a great start) and visit the National Autistic Society to learn more from those with the condition.
Be understanding – whilst you don’t know what it’s like to be a child with Autism, if you know a child has been diagnosed with it be patient. Meltdowns, difficult or challenging behaviour and obsessive traits are all part of the condition – not naughtiness.
Don’t question the diagnosis – the idea that it’s an excuse for bad parenting is a myth – it’s incredibly difficult to get a diagnosis for your child and parents often have to go through many years of stress for it.
Manage your expectations – don’t expect a child with Austim (or even an adult) to be able to behave like a neurotypical person and don’t suggest they are naughty when they don’t. They aren’t ‘normal’ and never will be so it’s ok if you change your approach.
Finally be kind. If you see a child kicking off in the street DON’T be the person who assumes they are naughty and tut at their mother. The child might be just being a pain, but the poor mother doesn’t need or want your well meaning advice, glares or huffs.
Kindness goes a very long way in this world!