First published in the Strathclyde Telegraph 1/04/15 (available online here)
Autism Awareness Day takes place on the 2nd of April and aims to raise awareness of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It can be argued that more has to be done to raise awareness of the condition and to help support those diagnosed, as well as their families.
World Autism Awareness Day started back in 2008 by the United Nations in order to raise awareness to help people understand the difficulties that autism sufferers may face. Their website claims that currently 80% of those diagnosed with autism are unemployed. This is a huge number of people when it is estimated that it has a prevalence rate of around 1.1%, according to the latest statistics on The National Autistic Society website; this works out at about 695,000 people in the UK.
As Autism is a spectrum disorder it can affect many people in a variety of ways and not everyone will feel the same way or have the same struggles. It is described as a developmental condition meaning that it has to be present within childhood for a diagnosis to occur and is usually described as having a triad of symptoms. The triad of symptoms are difficulty with social communication, difficulty with social interaction and difficulty with social imagination. As you can see these are things that most of us take for granted and probably wouldn’t even think twice about.
Research shows that more males tend to be diagnosed that females and some would argue that there appears to be a under diagnosis in females. Research by academics such as Gould and Aston-Smith have found that girls who have been diagnosed with ASD are more able to follow social interactions with others better than boys and tend to engage in more pretend play. It can be seen that as ASD appears to manifest itself differently in females it can be more difficult for girls and women to gain a diagnosis as the criteria is based off of male behavioural characteristics.
One thing that I found out while speaking to people with autism or those involved with autism is that they all seem to agree that more awareness is needed. It seems that some people are unaware of the difficulties that are faced everyday by those with autism and that the differences that are seen in autistic individuals made them subject to ridicule and targets to bullies.
When speaking to Ms Liza Dresner, the director of Resources for Autism, a charity with around 200 volunteers, she agreed that more had to be done in order to raise awareness and to inform that the media portrayal of autism is far from what the condition is actually like for most people. Ms Dresner also emphasised that there need to be more support available to families with autistic relatives and believes that the support available has decreased during this recent period of austerity.
You can find out more about World Autism Awareness on the UN website and you can get some great fundraising ideas from the Scottish Autism website. There are also plenty of ways to donate and to become a much needed volunteer for these charities.