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Happy World Autism Day!

Posted by: on 02-04-2020

Hello! It's here! That one day of the year where we raise awareness about autism!  Yay!  Put up the bunting!  It's the most wonderful time of the year!*

*Note, this is sarcasm.

Today, this week, this month, is centred around raising awareness about autism.  I find this faintly ironic as I spend most of my year trying to raise awareness about autism, through staff training, class based activities, one to one sessions and standing in the middle of Kingston town centre singing songs.  It is a time when people are encouraged to think about autism and its impact on people and how they can help.  

However.  This shouldn't just be one day, or one week, or one month.  It needs to be all the time.  Autism doesn't just occur in April, it's a lifelong impairment.  I have had the privilege of working with students with a diagnosis of autism for many years and I have learned many, many things.  Mostly patience.  But also that a diagnosis doesn't change a person, it means that you have to be more flexible in how you teach and how you interact.  Also, that I talk too fast, I am weird and that I am not that fat.  I take that as a massive win.

The best book about autism that I have ever read is called "The Reason I Jump" by Naoki Higoshida.  He is a young man with an autism diagnosis.  In it, he answers questions he has been asked over the years.  It made me cry.  It made my dealings with students with a diagnosis of autism more measured.  Research and studies about autism, as well as campaigns raising awareness about autism, have made it easier for voices to be heard.  There are a now a plethora of books out there about autism.  The stuffy educational ones (I am still plowing through The Empty Fortress), the ones written by parents and the ones written by people who are on the autistic spectrum.  Those are my favourite.

Temple Grandin is a professor of Animal Science and created a system, for use in slaughter houses, that is designed from the point of view of cows.  Now, I mentioned this in my interview for my current job.  In front of a group of students, in response to "Who is your hero?"  Looking back, it was not the most appropriate answer, especially when it was countered with "Why her?  Why not Helen Keller? Why choose someone who kills cows?"  But it was honest.  Temple Grandin was almost written off when she was a child, because she was autistic.  She had so many problems growing up, especially in school, where things didn't make sense to her.  She admits that she hated junior and high school and that it was only when a Science teacher recognised her abilities that she started to make progress.  She has an affinity with animals - they usually act in the same way, unlike humans - and this led her to come up with a humane way of leading cows to the abbatoir.  She was able to use her autism in a positive way and focus in on what would help the cows.  Her books about autism are written in an accessible and straightforward way and her TED talk is wonderful.  Her resilence is phenomenal and she has helped raise awareness about the strengths that autism can bring to life and work.  She is honest.  And I like that.

And when it comes to thinking about people with a diagnosis of autism, I would say acceptance is the biggest thing.  We need to do that with everyone, because we are all different.  Whether people have a diagnosis or not, they have the right to be accepted and loved for who they are.  Sometimes it takes effort to interact with someone who is different to us, but wouldn't we want other people to make the effort with us?  I really appreciate it when someone notices the hard work I put into something, when someone asks how I am and actually listens to the answer, when someone takes a genuine interest in the things I love.  And is it really that hard?  I don't think so.

So let this be the beginning of a year, a decade, a lifetime of being aware about difference and accepting it.

Now, where's that bunting...


Stay safe.


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