April is National Autism Awareness Month and the first week, (1–7th), is World Autism Awareness Week. Across the globe, people who have autism, carers, parents, teachers, family and friends will come together to raise money for research and support, and to increase awareness of autism and some of the problems that autistic people face.
Autism is more common than many people think with more than 1 in 100 people having some form of autism, translating to approximately 700,000 people in the UK. Chances are that you will have someone in your setting who is on the autistic spectrum somewhere.
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability which typically affects a person’s ability to communicate with and interact effectively with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviours, and the signs of autistic behaviour often appear in early childhood. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. It is a lifelong condition, not an illness or disease and there is no ‘cure’. Often people who have autism, feel that being autistic is a fundamental part of who they are, and support centres around helping them cope with the world, tackling social anxiety and bringing out their true potential. Many autistic people have abilities that non-autistic people do not have, especially in relation to specialist topics such as numbers.
Autism is a ‘spectrum condition’ meaning it affects people in different ways to a greater or lesser extent. These can include:
- Learning difficulties
- Mental health issues
- Communication problems
In the March issue of the Parenta magazine, we ran an article by Gina Smith on “Ways to support children on the autism spectrum in your setting”. Here we look at ways you can help raise awareness of the condition and perhaps raise a few pounds as well, to complement our article on the importance of charity in this magazine too.
How can you get involved in National Autism Awareness Month?
We’ve listed below 3 areas where you can help during April, but there’s no reason why you can’t extend these activities throughout the year.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) have been running an awareness and information campaign for the last few years called “Too Much Information” (#AutismTMI) and they have a lot of resources on their website you can use in your setting, not just with the children who attend, but with staff and parents too.
It includes a new short film about how unexpected changes can affect autistic people, and you can sign up to make a pledge to take some action in your setting to help. This could be as simple as:
- Giving clear instructions in simple, literal English
- Understanding sensory overload and melt downs
- Giving warnings when things change
- Developing your patience and allowing more ‘processing time’
You could run a general information session for your staff and/or parents, or if you’d like to get more involved, there are training courses online or in person to increase your understanding of the condition and the skills of your staff. The Autism Education Trust offer specific training for early years practitioners on the subject. These courses could count towards your continuing professional development (CPD) and will increase your general skill level.
Become “autism friendly” or “autism accredited”
Consider applying for “Autism Friendly” status or Autism Accreditation. Many autistic people find going out into society difficult. Loud music, crowded places and the lack of quiet, personal space means that for many, this is a very real and limiting social disability. The National Autistic Society’s Autism Friendly Award “champions premises who commit to making sure that autistic visitors receive the same warm welcome as everybody else”.
All types of businesses can apply for the status and it usually only means making small changes, but these changes can make a huge difference to autistic visitors. Businesses who have gained this status include cinemas, theatres, airports, sports arenas, high street stores and hairdressers. And the NAS claim that “every customer-facing organisation, whatever their size or business, can benefit from becoming autism-friendly”. There are 5 criteria to satisfy in order to achieve the award, which cover: customer information, staff understanding of autism, the physical environment, the customer experience and promoting understanding of the condition. Even if you don’t apply for it in your own setting, you could easily download an information pack explaining how you can help persuade businesses and other public spaces apply themselves, here.
The Autism Accreditation is the UK’s only specific quality assurance programme proving an organisation is committed to “understanding autism and setting the standard for autism practice.” This accreditation could have benefits for your nursery in terms of increased expertise, reassurance for parents/carers, and the ongoing development of your setting.
Donate or fundraise
Getting involved in charitable fundraising is both fun, personally rewarding, and financially beneficial to the charity involved. This year, the NAS are running a series of night walks of 5k, 10k or 15k in London, Manchester, Belfast, Glasgow and Cardiff in early April to raise money, with celebrities and members of the general public getting involved. Other events include a virtual run, cycle, walk or ride for 7km too.
Even if you don’t take part in an event, you could always donate on the ACS website or get a free fundraising pack, specially tailored for educational settings to help you organise your own events, at: www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/world-autism-awareness-week/schools.aspx. You could even win a visit from legendary ‘super-brain’, Anne Hegerty of “The Chase” fame!
For more information, see:
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