Its World Autism Awareness Week but I want action!
As the Chair of the Westminster Commission on Autism, I am pleased to support World Autism Awareness Week.
World Autism Awareness Week is a fantastic initiative. It is an opportunity to spread understanding about what life as an autistic person is really like. All-too-often there are barriers to education, healthcare, employment and a full life for autistic people. I became so deeply dissatisfied about the treatment of autistic people in our society that I founded and now Chair the Westminster Commission on Autism.
The Commission carries out inquiries into topics of importance to the autistic community. Our first report was on access to healthcare for autistic people. The report can be found here - https://westminsterautismcommission.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/ar1011_ncg-autism-report-july-2016.pdf
Autism: The Basics
Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. It’s estimated that over 1% of the UK’s population are autistic, with 700,000 autistic people living in the UK today and 2.8m lives touched by autism daily.
Due to the variable influence of autism on an individual’s life, autism is conceived of as a spectrum condition.
Autism is not a mental health condition but according to one study, 70% of autistic children meet the criteria for a co-occurring mental health condition, and 40% meet the criteria for two17. Autism is not a learning disability but a significant proportion of autistic people have a learning disability (prevalence estimates vary but are often quoted to be approximately 50%).
Awareness of autism is generally good and 99% of the general population have heard of autismbut understanding of the complexity of autism spectrum conditions and the ways in which these conditions affect communication, sensory experience and behaviour is not so good. Too many myths still exist which cloud true understanding and acceptance of autism, such as the belief autistic people lack all empathy or that everyone with autism is the same.
The ‘hidden’ nature of autism means that making reasonable adjustments for autistic people can be difficult. Often the adjustment will need to be made to communication techniques i.e. avoiding open-ended questions or providing easy-read information.
Making reasonable adjustments for autistic people is perceived to be more complex than for someone with a visible disability for example.
There are a range of related co-occurring conditions associated with autism including ADHD and epilepsy.
People often misconceive autism as a childhood condition. Autism is a lifelong condition. People also stereotypically think of autism as a ‘male’ condition and the typical autistic person as a male child. It is true to say that there are more men diagnosed with autism than women. However, this may be due to a misunderstanding of the manifestation of autism in women as well as a possible male bias in diagnostic tools.
Despite the efforts of many to improve understanding and break down barriers, the autistic community all-too-often struggle with navigating a world attuned to the needs of neuro-typical people. Misunderstanding and resultant anxiety can characterise many autistic people’s lives. Too many have to fight for the same opportunities and liberties that the neuro-typical population take for granted.