World Autism Month
Celebrated in April each year, this month aims to provide an insight into autism and how it affects not only those living with it, but the people around them too.
Organised by the National Autistic Society, the month runs alongside World Autism Awareness Week (29 March – 4 April) and World Autism Awareness Day (2 April).
What is autism?
Autism is a developmental disorder which impacts a person’s ability to interact and communicate. Symptoms of autism often appear in early childhood and are identified when children don’t reach developmental milestones at the same time as their peers.
There are 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, which is more than 1 in 100. When you also include their families, autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people across the country.
Having autism affects everyday life for individuals and it’s important that we understand some of the common symptoms:
- Not understanding the feelings and thoughts of others.
- Struggling to explain their feelings.
- Typically preferring their own company over making friends.
- Feeling upset if their routine changes.
Although autism does not present itself the same way in every person, many autistic people have common strengths. These include:
- Ability to remember information for long periods of time.
- Ability to learn things in greater detail.
- Strong visual and auditory learners.
- Excel in maths, science, music or art.
Insight on autism
We caught up with some staff members and students at Leeds City College to hear their perspectives on living with autism.
What does having autism mean to you?
Maria*: “It means my view of the world and the way my brain works is a bit different to neurotypical people.”
How does it affect you in everyday life?
“I have sensory issues, so what could be a normal sudden noise to you could be really scary for me. I also find it very startling when someone brushes past me. It’s important that I follow my set routine, as I can get very upset if plans suddenly change.”
Are there some tasks you find more difficult?
“I struggle going out by myself, as the sensory aspects of going into a shop or canteen can be overwhelming. For example, the lights feel too bright, it’s too busy or there are too many noises. To me, everything is unexpected which makes me nervous.”
What are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
“Lockdown affected my independence, so I found it difficult to go outside by myself. Unlike my classmates, I never got to go out shopping with my friends which affected my confidence.
“Eventually, I began gaining independence by going to the shop by myself. This was a really big accomplishment for me, because I managed to get on the bus, go into a shop and buy something.
“I also found that headphones work really well for blocking out loud noises that can make me feel anxious.”
What can others do to support you?
“You should be wary of touching people with autism and playing loud music. Comfort items, such as fidget toys or teddies are important, so don’t take these away from us as this can cause anxiety.
“If you don’t understand something or have a question, just ask rather than assuming. Everyone’s experience with autism is different, so make sure you don’t generalise.”
What do you enjoy most about your course at college?
“Everyone is so understanding. I feel confident to express myself and don’t feel embarrassed to have a comfort item with me. I’m learning so much during my course; a lot of our acting practice is physical which really helps with my development.”
How does Leeds City College help with your autism?
“The staff members are extremely respectful, they always listen when I need something. For example, if I’m struggling and need my headphones they’re very quick to respond.”
How can you support?
Given the statistics, it’s likely that you know someone with autism or a family caring for someone with autism. As it can vary in terms of complexity and severity, it’s important to be aware of the various ways you can support:
- The National Autistic Society has outlined some advice on how to communicate effectively here.
If you’d like to get support, there are many local services available.
Leeds Autism Services
A charity dedicated to helping autistic people reach their potential.
ZigZag Leeds Autism Support Group
A long standing support group run by parents for parents and carers of children on the autistic spectrum.
Specialist Autism Services
Non-profit organisation which provides autism specific services across the Yorkshire region.
Leeds Autism AIM
A local service working with autistic people aged 18 and over, offering free support including advocacy, information and signposting to relevant services.
*This is not the student’s real name as they wished to remain anonymous.