They’re not just a puzzle piece – Autism Awareness Week

By Isabella Chandler

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism is defined as a spectrum disorder affecting individuals’ ability to communicate and interact with the world around them; frequently being characterised by several different challenges such as those affecting the individuals social skills, speech and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviours. Due to Autism being a spectrum disorder (Autism Spectrum Disorder), the symptomatology differs from person to person, and therefore, it is very individual to each person. Some things that individuals with ASD may find difficult include:

  • Interacting with others
  • Understanding the thoughts and emotions of other people
  • Loud noises as they can be overwhelming- e.g. banging of doors
  • Bright lights as they can be overwhelming
  • Unfamiliar situations as they can cause extreme anxiety, this may be social events or change to their normal routine

As ASD is a spectrum disorder it affects people differently and to different severities. For example, there can be high functioning autistic people who may need little or no support, to those who are low functioning and require constant or lots of support. This varsity makes it very hard for some people to understand and causes some confusion and questions. One question that people may often consider is the level of intelligence that an autistic person may have, and again, due to it being a spectrum disorder this often varies from person to person, with some people having above average or average intelligence levels whereas other may have below average levels of intelligence and a learning disability. This uncertainty surrounding autism can make it very hard for some people to accept.

How many people does Autism Spectrum Disorder affect in the UK?

Research has found that Autism Spectrum Disorder affects around 700,000 people within the UK, with 1 in 100 children being diagnosed with the condition. This begs the question, if it affects a large proportion of the population, why is it not spoken about more and why aren’t people more aware of the varsity of the symptoms that can occur? This is one of the main reasons why Autism Awareness Week is so important as it helps to educate people and increase people’s understanding and awareness of the disorder.

Celebrities who have Autism Spectrum Disorder:

There are a number of different celebrities who have spoken out about being autistic these include:

  • Dan Aykroyd
  • Susan Boyle
  • Daryl Hannah
  • Chris Packham
  • Greta Thunberg

Alongside these celebrities listed, there are also several others who are rumoured to have it, or are raising awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Several celebrities are trying to raise awareness, particularly those who have children with diagnosed ASD in order to help educate the general population of autism and how it can affect people in different ways.

Negative label attached to Autism Spectrum Disorder and the stigma this has caused: What can be done to combat this?

There are many different misconceptions about ASD within the general population. They often think that everyone who has autism screams all the time or cannot communicate properly- when this isn’t the case.

I recently watched an interview with a girl called Immie Swain on ‘Good Morning Britain’ where she was talking about her autism diagnosis, as she wasn’t diagnosed until she was 15. In the interview she said; “getting the diagnosis, even though I didn’t think it at the time, is probably the best thing that has happened …. at first I just thought they were attaching a label to me so they’re telling me all these things that are wrong with me, but now I’ve realised that getting the diagnosis, meant that it explained why I was a little bit different, but there’s nothing wrong with that” (Immie Swain, 19th March 2021).

One thing that is crucial for all autistic people to understand is to just be themselves, and it is also vital for everyone to understand that it’s ok to be different. One way to ensure that the negative label attached to autism, and the stigma it has around it, is ensuring that everyone becomes more educated on individual differences and what autism can look like and the fact that it is so varied; by educating a lot more people and raising more awareness of autism, it will become a lot less stigmatised.

There is some really good information surrounding autism and the stigma attached to it but also the role that ethnicity and culture has to play within this negative stigma. It is on the National Autistic Society website and can be found here. This is a really interesting read.

Charities that have further advice and support for those with ASD:

There are several charities whose aim is to help raise awareness as well as offer help and support for those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some of these charities include:

To help educate yourself, there are a number of useful websites some of which are set out below: