Are we hiding behind Autism?

20 July 2016

Dear friend,

It seems like everyone has heard of autism it has become a hot topic over the last few years. We have awareness months, programs on the TV, documentaries, news stories, benefits, concerts, even an Autism's got talent contest... In 2015 the National Autistic Society carried out a YouGov poll and found that more than 99.5% of people in the UK had heard of autism... A brilliant achievement!

BUT... In the same YouGov poll just 16% of autistic people and their families said that the public had a meaningful understanding of autism. A massive contrast that shows us we still have a way to go in promoting acceptance. So are we hiding behind 'Autism'?

More and more I am starting to think that I should stop assuming that when people hear the word autism they understand what it means:
  • How can anyone really know autism unless they have firsthand experience with it and even then because autism is such a broad spectrum everyone's experiences are different. It is very complex to describe (something I have also posted about here) and something my son explained much better than I ever could. 
  • Despite people 'knowing' my son has autism, some fail to accept that and brush it under the carpet and then get disappointed when he does something 'wrong' or become embarrassed by his actions.
  • Our culture of pity or fear breads misunderstanding about autism. We mostly hear about the 'newsworthy' best/worse case scenarios that often feed the stereotypes and mean that people see autism as a gift or a curse...

We remain an autism unfriendly world.

Whilst we are celebrating our success at raising autism awareness, there are families sitting in their home afraid to take their children out because of the reaction of other people.  When families do venture out they can feel a lot of pressure to plan everything perfectly in order to avoid the meltdown and people making judgements on their parenting skills or about their child.

I loved the response by Broadway star Kelvin Moon Loh on his Facebook page after his King and I Performance was disturbed by a Child with Autism. He described the mum as brave for even attempting to bring her child to the theatre and asked for compassion, concluding that theatre is created for all people. Bravo!

Let's get autism out in the open. 

I particularly welcome changes such as Health passports for autistic people, supermarkets and toy shops holding autism friendly events and large organisations/companies going for Autism Accreditation Awards, like Newcastle Airport with their Autism passports. Brilliant ideas that make a real difference to autistic people and demonstrate a meaningful understanding of what autism actually is!

Let's challenge what people think they know about autism!

We need to stop expecting autistic people to hide away or to hide their autism to fit in with our world when actually we need to change to really understand theirs...

Thank you to all of you who have read, commented on and shared any of my Autism posts, you are helping to get the message out there. We really appreciate all of your support. 

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