Inclusion is a major theme for this year’s World Autism Awareness Day, but much more work is needed to ensure that it happens for everybody with autism, says Learning Disability Today editor Dan Parton.
It is World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 – which then goes into World Autism Awareness Week (April 2-9) – the annual time of year that sees events and gatherings around the world celebrating autism and autistic people and aiming to bring a higher profile to the condition and what it is. This year’s theme, according to the UN website, is ‘Autism and the 2030 Agenda: Inclusion and Neurodiversity’.
Ahead of this year’s World Autism Awareness Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “On this World Autism Awareness Day, I call for advancing the rights of individuals with autism and ensuring their full participation and inclusion as valued members of our diverse human family who can contribute to a future of dignity and opportunity for all.”
It is a laudable aim, and that it has the backing of such a senior figure as Ban Ki-moon, shows that the condition, and the rights and lives of autistic people are being given the spotlight they need.
While the vast majority of people may have heard of autism, many still do not understand what it is. The image that autistic people are savants with incredible abilities like Raymond Babbitt in ‘Rain Man’ – the 1988 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise – still has currency among some people. In reality, very few autistic people are savants – about 1 or 2 in 200 has some sort of extraordinary ability, according to the National Autistic Society (NAS).
Raising awareness is hugely important for tackling the stigma that still surrounds autism, and attitudes among the public that can lead autistic people to feel and become socially isolated. This is still a significant problem, as a NAS survey of more than 7,000 people, released to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day, found that 79% of autistic people and 70% of family members feel socially isolated. In addition, 50% of autistic people and family members sometimes or often don’t go out because they’re worried about how people will react to their autism.
The NAS’ research showed that this lack of understanding means autistic people and families often face ‘tuts’, judgemental stares and disapproving noises when they’re out in public. This means that, over time, they avoid going to places they might feel overwhelmed or judged, and become more and more isolated.
But giving people information can help to put a stop to this. Once people understand what autism is, and what it means for people who are autistic, and how that it affects every person in a different way, then they become more understanding and tolerant. In turn, this can help to ensure that autistic people and their families stay part of their local communities and don’t become socially isolated.
Days and weeks such as World Autism Awareness are great – and much needed – and the events and media coverage that comes with it, but this needs to be maintained throughout the year. More awareness campaigns should be instituted about what autism is – and isn’t – to help bring those worrying statistics from the NAS down and ensure more autistic people play a full part in their communities.
Pavilion has just published 10 Rules for Ensuring People with Learning Disabilities and Those Who Are On The Autism Spectrum Develop ‘Challenging Behaviour’… and maybe what to do about it, a pocket-sized booklet that aims to spark thought and discussion on how we can better understand those on the autism spectrum and/or with learning difficulties and their needs. Find out more here.
Pavilion has also published Understanding Autism: A training pack for professionals supporting individuals with autism based on 'Postcards from Aspie World' which is based on the premise that learning from the experience of someone on the autism spectrum can teach support professionals how to be more person-centred and therefore achieve better outcomes. Find out more here.