This post is written by Katie Pass.
“Mummy, why are they in a wheelchair?”; “Why does that woman need a dog to see where she is going?“; “Why is that little boy using his hands to talk?”.
If you are a parent, grandparent, or someone who has regular contact with a child – at some point you will have been asked an awkward question. Personally, I am still trying to avoid the “where do babies come from?” question!
I have always tried to be open and honest with my children when they ask those awkward questions, which usually tends to be in loud voices whilst staring at the person they are talking about! But what if your child was the focus of those questions?
I have had the pleasure of people staring, pointing and judging myself and my child. One mother took it upon herself to walk across a restaurant to tell me that my child should learn to behave appropriately if I insisted on bringing him into a public place (he was having a tantrum because two different food groups had touched on his plate). Another lady told my son to “grow up” when he screamed and cried because she used the hand drier in the toilets.
You can’t see my child’s disability. In fact he looks completely ‘normal’. It’s his behaviour that gives him away. He is on the autistic spectrum. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
Autism is much more common than people think. Roughly one in 100 people have autism , which equates to over half a million people in the UK alone. Autism affects people from all nationalities, cultures, religions and social backgrounds.
Autism isn’t a ‘new’ thing. Although a lot of people have heard the term, they don’t understand what it means. I could list all the traits my son has, but every person on the autistic spectrum (and that includes people with asperger’s, ADHD, and some professionals argue people with dyspraxia and dyslexia) are all so very different. When I look back at my school years and think of people I went to school with who I thought were a little bit ‘odd’, I now see that they would be on the spectrum. When my parents were children, autism was thought to have been caused by babies not bonding with their ‘cold’ mothers. In my grandparents’ days, children would have been institutionalised.
Monday 2nd April is World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD). Its purpose is to raise the profile of autism so that more people have an awareness of what it might be like to be on the spectrum. It is also about encouraging early diagnosis and early intervention. The younger a child has a diagnosis the earlier they and their parents can gain help. Whilst you cannot cure autism you can help that person to integrate into society and learn to deal with and accept everyday situations such as eating in a busy restaurant or using a public toilet without the noise causing an issue. WAAD also celebrates and promotes the unique talents and skills that some people with autism possess.
I hope by the time my children have their own children, autism will be more fully understood, but more importantly more accepted.
So maybe next time you see a child having a ‘meltdown’, before you judge that parent and/or child, just stop and think for a moment. Maybe they are just having a moment (and we have all been there!) or maybe, just maybe, there is something more to it…
On a related note, Wendy’s friend James Booth is running the London Marathon this year for the charity Ambitious About Autism, which provides important services to those with autism. It also focuses on raising awareness and understanding of the condition, and where possible it works to influence policy. Ambitious About Autism exists to enable children and young people with autism to learn, thrive and achieve, and through Treehouse School, it provides specialist education with an ambition to make the ordinary possible for more children and young people with autism. If you would like to sponsor James, please click here for his fundraising page.