It is a UN sanctioned day to raise awareness, support, understanding and ultimately acceptance for people on the autism spectrum across the globe. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message sums up the aim of the day perfectly:
“This international attention is essential to address stigma, lack of awareness and inadequate support structures. Now is the time to work for a more inclusive society, highlight the talents of affected people and ensure opportunities for them to realize their potential.”
As a parent to 2 children on the autism spectrum, all I want is for them to be accepted and to have the chance to thrive. It’s as simple as that. That is what every single person deserves, the chance to show what they can do and to reach their full potential.
The challenges that people with autism face are pervasive and lifelong. Autism affects every part of development – it is not just a communication issue or behavioural problem – it innately affects every part of daily life.
It affects communication – some people with autism are non-verbal while others struggle to coherently share their thoughts. It affects social interaction – people with autism typically find it difficult to maintain conversations, initiate friendships and understand social conventions. It affects behaviour – people with autism often have restrictive routines, obsessive interests and repetitive behaviours.
Autism is not just a childhood condition. There are many adults with the condition, possibly more undiagnosed than those diagnosed. And it does not go away, even though government funding in Australia is mainly directed at children under the age of 7. Funding for teenagers and adults with the condition is nowhere near enough to provide optimal outcomes for everyone.
It is universally recognised that early intervention (specialist intervention in early childhood) gives the best results for people on the spectrum. It provides the best chance to realise their potential. But successful early intervention is classed as 20 hours of intensive therapy a week, something that is out of reach of most families.
Education funding for children on the autism spectrum is being eroded across every jurisdiction as governments struggle to deal with the exponential rise in diagnoses. In NSW, kids on the higher end of the spectrum (kids like my own) no longer have access to individual funding. They, and their teachers, are left to cope as best they can in mainstream classrooms without funding for additional support.
Special education settings cannot meet demand and are not always the best option for kids on the higher functioning end of the spectrum. A worrying hole is developing beneath these kids and while money is ostensibly being saved by government now, the cost to the state later on in health and other costs, as these kids start falling through the cracks in the system, will be huge.
As a parent of 2 kids on the spectrum and as a carer, I want everyone to understand that properly supporting and accepting people with autism will go a long way to helping them achieve great things. I want everyone to understand that there is nothing WRONG with someone with autism. They face challenges, yes, but they have so many amazing talents and gifts to share.
We need to provide adequate support, at every stage of life, to ensure every person with autism has the opportunity to realize their potential. We need to support the families caring for people on the autism spectrum so they can continue to give all the love, support, help and care that they need. And we need to support educators, therapists and specialists to ensure they can continue to provide specialist advice and assistance too.
On this day, World Autism Awareness Day, I ask that you all take a moment to consider the challenges faced by people with autism and their families. Make the commitment to increase your own awareness of the condition. You can find out more here.
Awareness leads to understanding and understanding leads to acceptance. It is a little thing but if everyone took the time to do so, it would lead to much greater change.
Today I will be wearing blue to mark my support for greater awareness and I ask you to do the same. Again, it is a small thing but seeing your support will mean the world to myself and others living with autism everyday.
My dream is a world where difference in all it’s forms is celebrated and accepted. A world where my children can be proud of who they are. A world where they can be whoever and whatever they want to be. A world where they are fully supported through every stage of their life. A world where autism is no longer a term to be feared.
It is a wonderful, beautiful and infinitely precious dream. And I dearly hope to see it materialise one day.