April is World Autism Awareness Month. The United Nations deemed April 2nd World Autism Awareness Day 11 years ago.
The idea being to raise awareness, they committed to promotion of full participation of all people who have autism and ensuring they have the needed support to be able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms.
Sounds good so far.
I wonder however, what this is supposed to mean to the thousands of people who have autism and their families who struggle every day to meet the needs of someone they love who has autism and all the complex issues which come with it.
I remember thinking when I was maybe less cynical it was a good thing but how has it changed people’s perception and what difference does it actually make, how far have we come since the first World Autism Awareness Day?
I am autism weary. It was never going to be an easy journey but with a massive increase in the prevalence of autism, 1 in 150 and despite being 11 years on not very much seems to have changed.
World Autism Day has somehow become a celebration of autism, but as a friend asked ‘why would we celebrate autism’. I don’t see many friends who have a child who has autism throwing a party. Autism is at best difficult and at worst wrecks families and lives.
Over the last 11 years there has been far more in the media regarding autism. Many of the public have an inkling about the triad of impairments but have little understanding that not everybody with autism is the same.
It is so rare for the media to share anything other than moderate autism. The exception is the horror stories of Winterbourne View and Mendip House to name two. Other than these grim headlines people who have severe autism, behaviour that challenges and complex needs are never mentioned.
What we can do to stop the vile abuse of power and violence to those very vulnerable people living in such establishments which I am sure sadly still exist, is let people know more about them and stop them leaving the communities they grew up in and make them visible.
If there is something in the news or on television friends and family eagerly ask if we have watched it. I have to say I see enough autism in my life.
The A Word which is a drama recently shown on the BBC portrays a cute little boy who has autism. All our children were cute when they were young, autism or not. What about people who are adults who have autism?!
Children grow up and it may come as a shock but adults do have autism, you just don’t see them very often!
Channel 4 recently showed a program called ‘Are you Autistic’ which was hosted by young ambassadors of the charity Ambitious about Autism. I’m not suggesting life is easy for these young people but they are all able to communicate and indeed present a television program.
I emailed Channel 4, I applauded them for airing a program about autism but I explained that they were just reinforcing public perception of what autism is.
Their response was that autism is such a wide issue and they couldn’t possibly cover every aspect which was the reason they chose to cover this particular aspect.
My response (I do always like to have the last word, as my poor husband knows only too well) was ‘What is massively disappointing and sadly predictable with all the media coverage of autism is that despite it being intricate with so many different avenues to discuss it is always the same aspects which are shown and discussed.
I hope that Channel 4 will be brave enough to make a program which is not just a reinforcement of what is already the majority of the public’s perception of autism’
I don’t expect they will.
How about World Autism Awareness Day instead of encouraging people to change the colour of their lightbulbs (which is never going to bring about change! Who even thought of that?!) sharing facts and figures about autism over the month of April.
Engaging with broadcasters and media who are willing to bring something different to the table and share with the public what autism at both ends (and in the middle) of the spectrum look like.
The more complex aspects of autism, perpetual anxiety, the difficulties with transition, the lack of suitable services, gut problems, what happens to people when they leave school and have nowhere to go to continue to learn, lack of peer groups, social isolation the list is endless.
What can be done to help people who have autism and are struggling in a public place, why getting out and about is as important for people who have autism as any of us, what can be done to make it easier to do this.
The Equality Act, Disability discrimination, the Care Act, the Autism Act and all the other things written in law which are ignored far too frequently. Empower those who have autism, parents and carers!
Engage with retailers, food chains, employers, towns and cities to make them more autism friendly. Ask sports centres, clubs and recreational facilities to provide inclusive activities. To make reasonable adjustment without families and carers feeling side lined and excluded.
World Autism Day and month should not be about celebration, celebrating autism is something of an oxymoron to me but should be about encouraging change and helping those who have autism have a life which we are all at ease with.