Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects one in 100 people or around 700,000 adults and children in the UK.
There are a number of difficulties that many autistic people share including social communication and interaction challenges, repetitive and/or restrictive behaviours, extreme sensory sensitivity, highly focused interests/hobbies, extreme anxiety and meltdowns/shutdowns. The video below from The National Autistic Society is a simulation of what an everyday experience can be like for someone with Autism.
Currently, more men and boys are diagnosed with Autism than women and girls, though there are theories around this which suggest that it might be due to less females being diagnosed.
The causes of Autism are not yet known, however it is thought that a variety of physical factors that affect brain development could be the trigger. There is also evidence to suggest that the conditions are genetic.
Our Marketing & Production Executive, James Fallon, worked as a teacher of Grade 2 children in a primary inclusion school in Bahrain for two years. He explained his time at the school, his experiences with working with Autistic people and why we still need more awareness of these conditions and what the general public can do to help.
“I had not encountered many people with Autism until I became a teacher, so I had a lot of learning to do in a short amount of time. I learnt very quickly that the condition affects different people in very different ways.
In my first class, one of the students was almost non-verbal. With some close assistance from his shadow teacher and myself, we could get him to speak small phrases and sentences, but he would often struggle to focus when trying to pronounce new words or complete longer-form sentences. Distractions would affect him much more than others and he could get easily overwhelmed by external factors such as excessive noise. This could lead to him just struggling to focus, or in the worst cases, a complete meltdown and him trying to escape the classroom.
Experiencing this highlighted to me how important it was to create an environment where the children with Autism would not be subject to overwhelming noise, light or other stimuli. The eye-opening thing for me, however, was this student’s ability to spot patterns, complete spellings and sums at a pace significantly above his age group. He would often complete small pieces of work such as word searches or number puzzles before I’d even had a chance to find all of the answers!
My next class had fewer children on the spectrum, but it presented different challenges. Some of the children in this class were very easily overwhelmed with emotion when they struggled with classwork. Thankfully, the other children in this class were very considerate and encouraging, despite them being too young to fully understand the condition. It was really heart-warming to see children being more patient and aware of their classmates than many adults would be, and it made for a great classroom environment.
One of the main takeaways from my time working there, was that so few people understand Autism and the help for it is often extremely limited, even in schools. Small changes can really make a huge difference to a person on the spectrum and with more awareness, we can improve the quality of life for a number of people.“
If you’re interested to see how you can make changes to support those with Autism, take a look at these five things everyone should know. If you’re looking for financial support for Autism, or know someone who is, find out more about the grants that are available with Disability Grants.