Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

World Autism Awareness Week 2021  

Tom Purser, Head of Campaigns at the National Autistic Society

It’s the start of April, which means it’s World Autism Awareness Week (29 March – 4 April). This is an important opportunity to get people talking about autism, finding out more about what it’s like to be autistic and celebrating autistic children and adults. It’s really encouraging to see so many people and organisations getting involved, and fundraising too, including schools and workplaces.

This year feels even more important as it coincides with the latest easing of lockdown restrictions. It’s an opportunity to think about the society we want to live in when we leave lockdown – and the small things we can all do to make it work better for autistic people and their families. We’ve got lots of resources on our website to help, including posters, quizzes, videos and much more.

Public understanding

Almost everyone has heard of autism. But far too few people know what it’s actually like to be autistic – both the strengths and how hard life can be at times. We continue to hear from autistic people who routinely feel misunderstood, who are struggling without the right support, and who even feel judged and mocked.

Better understanding of autism across society, from schools to workplaces and decision makers in local and national government, would transform hundreds of thousands of lives.

Top 5

We want everyone to understand the five key things about autism that autistic people and families tell us are most important to them:

  1. Autistic people can feel anxiety about changes or unexpected events

You can imagine how tough the disruption and frequent rule changes of the past 12 months have been. The latest easing of the rules are welcome for many but mean more change and some autistic people will be anxious about this.

  1. Autistic people can be under or over sensitive to sound, smells, light, taste and touch. This is called sensory sensitivity.

One of the hard-fought changes to government rules were that those autistic people who could not wear a face covering, usually for sensory reasons, did not have to. We can all make similar allowances in everyday life to support autistic people with sensory sensitives, once the lockdown ends, like dimming a light, turning down music or letting someone wear ear defenders if they need to.

  1. Autistic people need clear communication and time to process information, like questions or instructions 

Many autistic people found the pace and number of new rules around coronavirus overwhelming, and the abstract language and metaphors used in government guidance hard to understand. They were overloaded by too much information.

  1. Autistic people can face high levels of anxiety in social situations

Early in the pandemic, there were assumptions that lockdown might be preferable for autistic people. This has been true for some people. But for many it has just compounded the loneliness they experienced before lockdown.  

  1. Autistic people can have difficulties communicating and interacting with others 

Some autistic people will be anxious about being overloaded by the sudden increase in interactions and worried they’ll end up feeling left out and still isolated. Sticking to agreed times and giving plenty of notice about any changes can help.

Getting the strategy right

Many things need to change if we’re to create a society that works for autistic people, starting with the Government making sure its upcoming all-age autism strategy for England is ambitious and properly funded. And to get this right, they need to understand autism. We all have a role to play too, by finding out more about what it’s like to be autistic and the small things we can all do to make the world a little more autism friendly.

Thank you to everyone who is supporting World Autism Awareness Week this year, and helping us to create a better society for autistic people.

Find out more World Autism Awareness Week and get involved: autism.org.uk




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