Working, as I do, for a provider of mental health services, the words ‘autism’ and ‘autistic’ are fairly often heard. But as I’m not a clinician my knowledge of the condition is very limited. As Tuesday (2 April) is World Autism Awareness Day I did a little research, and was immediately overwhelmed by the range of sources of information. It is far more prevalent than I understood, which makes my lack of awareness – and that of most of us – all the more shameful. Rather than pillage or plagiarise these sources and pretend I know about something I don’t, I thought this explanation of the condition, from the National Autistic Society website would be a helpful start:
“Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.
Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.”
Clearly, there is much more to it than that, which is just a brief part of the introduction. The NAS (UK) is a great source of information for anyone wanting to know more – in fact, it is so good that the NHS website, which is also extremely helpful, cross refers to it. In my limited, under-informed opinion, both are very good.
There has been an Autism Awareness Day in one form or another since 1989, but in 2007 the United Nations (UN) called for one day each year to be designated as this. On December 18, 2007, the UN General Assembly designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. It was first observed in 2008, so this year’s is the 6th such day. The aim is to increase awareness about people, especially children, with autism. The day often features educational events for teachers, health care workers and parents, as well as exhibitions showcasing work created by children with autism. The UN is also a good source of information specifically about events on World Autism Awareness Day
One of my friends on Twitter has an autistic child, and I know from what she says how challenging this can be. So please, for her and for everyone affected by this widespread condition, take a little time to increase your own awareness. It might just help you to respond appropriately when you next encounter a person with autism, in the supermarket, for example.
Thank you for reading.