As a Cumbria County Council Champion for autism and a mother of an adult on the autism spectrum, I would like to draw readers' attention to World Autism week from March 29 to April 4.

Normally a series of events would publicise the event, but due to Covid this is not possible this year, so I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about autism and how it affects people and their families.

Autism is a life-long developmental disability which affects how people interact and communicate with the world. One in 10 people are on the spectrum and there are about 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Eighty per cent of autistic young people have experienced mental health problems (National Autistic Society).

People with autism need more time to process questions, requests and instructions. They struggle with meeting people, picking up unwritten rules and struggle with small talk and relationships. On the other hand they can display intense focus and attention to detail, have a considered and reflective approach with honesty (this can be painful), integrity and creative thinking.

Just 16 per cent of autistic people have a full time job. They can offer the valuable skills mentioned above but sometimes need additional support in that they need to be given clear instructions, perhaps even putting important points in writing. You can’t rely on them recognising body language or facial expressions to communicate. They may need to given time or space to recover if they become agitated. Offering a workplace buddy usually works well.

Autism is a spectrum, going from relatively normal to severe and can include Severe Learning Disabilities. For families living with autism it can be a challenge. One of the greatest difficulties is explaining to people who don’t know about it the reason for the behaviour of the child or adult – ‘what a naughty child’ has been said to parents struggling with an autistic child in a public place.

In my own experience, as a parent of an adult on the spectrum at a holiday park swimming pool I overheard two boys saying ‘did you see that weird man?’ Well he’s not a weird man – he is a person with autism, and we need people to understand that.

Available through the National Autistic Society during World Autism Week is a suite of free resources for all age groups to help people learn about autism. Designed primarily for schools it is useful to anyone who wishes to understand Autism.


Cumbria County Council