I first became interested in Autism Awareness after meeting a boy in my school who has Autism and gave a presentation to the entire school on the extent of his condition. Charlie told the school how Autism is measured on a spectrum of severity with symptoms including OCD meaning that the person can show obsessive behaviour. Charlie commented that “Autism mainly affects the way someone communicates with other people and they struggle to feel empathy”. He convincingly argued that this is mainly due to them having a set routine and taking things literally.
This article is not just about Charlie, it’s about a group of people throughout our society, who feel alienated, neglected and misunderstood by wider society because of their condition. Charlie emotively commented that he is “only one out of 1000s with this condition”, only one of thousands who have these feelings of neglect and alienation, only one of thousands who have to work daily with these feelings and the symptoms of their condition. I was once reprimanded by Charlie for forgetting to put inverted commas around the word ‘suffering’ because Charlie and others believe that Autism allows people to thrive as Autistic people are “often of an above average intelligence and an in-depth knowledge of a particular area” with a particular focus on precise details and focusing on not leaving any information out at all on their chosen topic.
Autism affects approximately 1 in 50 people according to official studies and the condition ranges from people who are able to live “relatively independent lives” to those who have “learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support”. The NAS states that people with autism may experience over or under sensitivity to their senses including sounds, touch and light. Asperger’s Syndrome is also a form of autism and many experience similar difficulties with language and speech. Charlie told me that Autism means that people often have difficulties with social communication, social interaction and social imagination and that people who ‘suffer’ from Autism often need specialist support to help them live as ‘normal’ a life as possible, particularly in younger years.
A few weeks ago, Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State, hosted a reception in the House of Commons with the NAS and around 100 people as well as 13 Parliamentarians from the Commons and the Lords attended where the need for change to health, social care and greater education about Autism was highlighted. Any future government have a key to play in helping people with autism and their families to get the help they need by bringing about changes in the NHS to ensure that the autistic are fully supported and that these support departments receive the correct funding in the future.
In the USA, there is a growing call for a National Autism Political party, one which would focus on the work that the public health service can do in advocating better treatment of people with Autism. One US political commentator suggested that a key part of generating a culture of understanding would be to oppose abortions when parents find out that their child might have Autism, an ethos that is still in place across America. Another responsibility of the government, both here and in the USA, is to increase government funding for Autism support to support those who don't have ‘serious’ enough problems to qualify under current programs. These policies do cross the political spectrum but would fit well into a ‘Pro-Autism’ party that is entirely focused on supporting those with Autism and their families.
NHS Luton has recently published their Strategic ‘Joint Commissioning Strategy for Adults with Autism in Luton’ which has five key policies to harbour this understanding;
• Ensuring that people receive timely and easy access to a community care assessment and diagnostic services.
• Making sure that individuals with Autism receive ongoing support to meet their health and social care needs (including a package of care or personal budget to meet their assessed needs).
• Making sure that people with Autism have access to appropriate accommodation either in a local residential home, supported accommodation or their own home.
• Providing individuals with the right support to access and stay in work or further education.
• Promoting an environment in which there is a much better understanding of Autism and how it impacts on the lives of people and carers of people with the condition.
This would enable changes across the divide of politics to benefit the supportive organisations to help the entire community of people who have the condition. The understanding that is required is a very basic thing and the NHS and Parliament as well as the Education system have an important role to play in encouraging this lifelong human compassion and understanding. Small acts of kindness and consideration help make someone who is autistic’s life easier and smoother, small acts of compassion help to make the Autistic feel like a more integrated part of the community and not excluded from society. This is partly achievable through education and Charlie’s presentation and speeches are a microcosm of excellent work that is being done up and down the country by people who have the condition as well as people who don’t. Particularly at this time with Autism Awareness week being from the 27th March to the 2nd April, it’s this work that allows us to make progress, to facilitate understanding and grow the seeds of consideration, friendship and compassion. Together through this work we can help people with Autism throughout the whole of our society.