World Autism Awareness Week
Published on 22/03/18
Did you know that around seven hundred thousand (700,000) people in the UK are on the autism spectrum? (Source: The National Autistic Society)
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.”
To an autistic person, the world will seem very different - both in the way they view it and in the way that they interact with others.
As autism is a spectrum condition, not everyone with the disability will be affected in the same way and have the same characteristics, although some of the difficulties they experience may be similar. Autism is not a disease or an illness - it is a lifelong disability for which there is no cure. It can affect anyone, from any background, religion, gender or social status and a person’s upbringing or social circumstances have no bearing on the cause of the condition.
Every year, the National Autistic Society hold World Autism Awareness Week - a week of dedicated fundraising events which help to raise the important funds required to continue raising awareness of the disability. This year’s fundraising week runs from the 26th March to the 2nd April and is being supported by the popular children's toymaker; Playmobil.
Here at e4education, we are very fortunate to work with many wonderful schools that support children on the autism spectrum, and many of these schools have had great fun in recent years participating in fundraising activities for this annual event. They have created displays, worn onesies to school, undertaken qualifications and held coffee mornings, all to help raise money and awareness of the condition.
Living with an Autistic Child; A Mother's Perspective
For my blog post this month, I wanted to find out more information on what it’s like living with an autistic child and about the amazing support that special schools can provide in helping to develop children’s education.
To do so, I spoke to a local mum of three, about her experiences of raising her youngest son, who is on the autism spectrum. She has kindly allowed me to reproduce our conversation below to help raise awareness of the condition.
What is day to day life like with a child on the autism spectrum?
Life is a rollercoaster - everyday is different and every day brings new achievements and new challenges.
Things that might be small achievements to other people are massive ones to us - saying a new word, putting on his shoes - none of these get taken for granted. Life can be very black and white with him, there are no shades of grey as he is always very honest and he doesn’t care how you take that. But that’s who he is and that’s the son we know.
When you have an autistic child, you have to be aware that just because your child does something one day, doesn’t mean that he will do it the next. Some days there will be early morning wake ups and accidents, for no reason at all, or he will take off his clothes or shoes, even if he’s all ready to go out, just because he doesn’t like how they look, fit or feel. Or it could be that he associates them with a bad experience - for example, he won’t wear a t-shirt that he’s had his hair cut in.
Autism changes how people experience the world - how it sounds, how it feels and looks, so there are sensory needs surrounding not just clothes but around food; textures, tastes and how the items are ordered on the plate. He struggles with communication too - so he can’t always verbalise how he feels or what he needs which means sometimes you’re not sure what is making him cry or laugh. This can be especially terrifying when he’s poorly, as you’re not sure how serious it is, because he can’t tell you.
Whilst there are difficulties in some kinds of communication, you learn to adapt and to find other ways to understand. For example, he is tidy and likes to have things put away and doors to be shut. He will let you cuddle him - if you ask him first, and he can be really funny and entertaining, especially with his actions. You can be giggling with him for ages. He is fearless - he’ll climb anything, of any height! We once turned away for a moment and found him near the top of the Astro football fencing! If he likes something, then he’s happy to do the same thing over and over again, he likes the routine. He’s amazingly good with an iPad and iPhone, he can use them better than some adults.
Your son goes to a mixed special school for 5 - 19 year olds with moderate to severe learning difficulties and autism specific education. Has going to a school that caters to his disability helped at all?
Definitely. The school provides a routine and structure - it’s a place of security. The teachers work at his level and to his pace. They are fully focused on the individual not the curriculum targets, which means there is a higher adult to children ratio and the classroom is fully adapted to his needs. He uses his communication system PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) everywhere.
The school continues to introduce them to the same experiences as the other children and does this despite their disabilities. If anything, they get more experiences - horse-riding, trips out, resident artists etc. It’s brilliant.
How do you like people to interact with your son? Is there anything you wish people would do differently?
Ideally, I’d like people to treat him no differently from every other child but I do feel sometimes they go overboard and expect a lot from him.
I quite often say he struggles with his communication but people continue to ask him question after question. Saying hello is great but asking him if he's had a good day isn't going to work as he won’t be able to respond.
I think people need to look at the individual child and recognise if the child wants or can have that interaction as too often, unfortunately people go down the ‘well he spoke to me' or 'I got him to talk to me' kind of route which is often for their own satisfaction rather than meeting his needs.
Most people are kind, especially children, but because every child on the spectrum is different there isn't enough understanding what works for one autistic child doesn't necessarily work for another.
Thank you for your time today. Is there anything else you’d like to tell people?
Raising a child with autism is hard work but we don’t know any different so we just get on with it. I think it’s made my other two children (both at secondary school) more understanding of others and I think the friends he has in the class have learned to adapt and help him.
At the end of the day, it isn’t easy, but I don’t think raising children ever is! I think the main thing I’d want people to take away from this is for them to hopefully have a little more understanding of the condition and to treat people according to how they want to be treated but then, I’d also argue that approach goes for anything in this world - not just autism!
Get in Touch
If you’re doing anything in school, this World Autism Awareness Week, please do tweet us at @e4education or drop us a message via firstname.lastname@example.org - we’d love to see what you get up to!