Autism Awareness Week is upon us. I’m sure that may draw a blank for some of you. I myself wasn’t even aware there was such a thing until a month ago… which is pretty bad if you think about it. I’m inclined to hang my head in shame.
From 27th March to 2nd April, people from around the UK will be raising awareness of autism in some form or other. Some will be raising funds, some will be hosting public events. Of course, despite the need to raise awareness, there’s no need to make a song and dance about the whole thing – unless someone’s planning Autism the Musical, which would be quite interesting…
It may even be as simple as finding out a bit more about the condition via the all-knowing oracle… Google. It’s as much about raising your own awareness of the condition as it is others.
The end goal is that by the end of the week, everyone will know a bit more enlightened on the subject of autism and the various traits associated with it.
To celebrate this special week, I shall be posting a series of blog articles over the entire week shedding light on the aspects of autism, from the positives to the celebrities to the films where autism will inevitably pop up from time-to-time(!)
So, just to get us started, for the unaware out there, autism is a neurobiological condition that impacts social interaction and in some cases, personal development. Signs of autism pop up as early as 2 years old, and is there throughout your entire life from beginning to end. And no, there is no cure for the condition. Not that you’d want one. It has a few oddities, no doubt about that, but a fair few positives too.
Some of the key traits of autism include:
- Compulsive behavior – Sometimes, autistics are prone to compulsive behavior such as a need to rap knuckles, saying a certain phrase, fiddling with a small, handheld object. Some of these tics can be really hyped up if placed in an anxious situation.
- Intense interest in a specific subject – autistics are known for extensive memory recall, and this trait is most evident when people – particularly children – take interest in a particular subject, like a film or a TV show, and can recite endless facts. Seriously, if you’ve got an autistic kid who is fond of Harry Potter, it’ll be like talking to a Wikipedia page.
- Need for routine – an autistic person may have a reliance on a strict routine to help them go about their day to day life. For an extreme example, if their typical schedule is to says they need to have their lunch at 12:30pm, then they may try and stick to that schedule, and deviating from it can cause bouts of anxiety. The world is an unfamiliar place, and for some autistics, the only way to navigate your way through it is to cloak yourself in familiar routines. This also means that any major change to day-to-day life is likely to be met with anxiety and apprehension… much like waiting for the next Transformers film.
- Sensory overload – we all need to see, smell, touch, taste and hear, but for some people on the autism spectrum, those senses are heightened to alarming proportions, and can sometimes be exceedingly painful. For example, the sound of paper rubbing on a soft surface can do a number on the ears. Seriously, that combo is my Kryptonite.
- Difficulty reading facial gestures – as autism is a condition that affects social interaction, this also affects how autistics perceive other people. It can be difficult to read facial expressions and understand what people are thinking based on those expressions. For example, if someone is looking a little blank-faced, to some people with autism, they might as well have been doing cartwheels of joy.
- Literal-minded – For some people, getting a joke is like catching a fish, you try to get it, but it constantly evades you. Some autistics may have difficulty telling whether someone is joking or if they are being serious. Trust me, the ‘pulling your leg’ phrase has the capacity to be a great source of embarrassment.
Hopefully, by this point, no one is asking, “what is autism?” Many of these conditions pop up from time to time as part of various conditions on the autism spectrum. If you’re interested in finding out more without being bombarded by metaphors – in my case, it’s easy to get lost in translation – then follow the link provided here: National Autistic Society. But for the love of God, do NOT be deterred by the word ‘disability’. Think of it as a condition. All disabilities are conditions, but not all conditions are necessarily disabilities.
Now, you DON’T need to become an instant whiz on autism. If at some point in your life, you meet someone with a hidden condition, you don’t need to mentally recite some clinical diagnosis word for word. But it never hurts to know the basics. Everyone with autism is affected in similar, but different ways. It’s not like we share a hive mind(!)
The National Autistic Society states that 1 in 10 people have autism. Doesn’t seem like a big number, right? Now, when you take into account the family, friends, acquaintances, employers, even the strangers they see in their day-to-day lives, that number goes up exponentially. Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ll meet someone with autism and you may be affected in some way. But that effect doesn’t have to be a negative one.
Dramatically monologuing aside, this awareness raising could make a great difference. The world isn’t unreasonably prejudiced against autism. No one’s come after me with torches and pitchforks. People are just uninformed about the condition. Unless we all start walking around with ‘autistic’ tattooed on our foreheads, nobody’s going to be any the wiser. Nobody’s psychic… as far as I know.
Now while I’ll be doing my awareness raising via the blog, there are several other awareness-raising methods I would have liked to try out, such as using a hypno-ray to beam autism awareness into the population’s brains. But unfortunately, I was not born in the Marvel universe.
Hopefully, with a bit more awareness, we can move forward and provide better support to autistic people and allow for better communication… or at the very least make sure no one confuses autism with demonic possession.
If you enjoyed this article, check out the rest in the Autism Awareness Week series!