The National Autistic Society Autism Awareness week is now over but autism awareness is vitally important every week of the year and in this blog I will explain my view on why this is.
I’ve actually been saddened by the controversy this year over the word ‘awareness’. I follow a number of SEN forums to keep an eye on what is being said, by whom and pick up more information along the way. I’ve been shocked by many comments made in the last week, questioned my own viewpoint (always good to do that), questioned the viewpoints of others (autistic and non autistic) and unfortunately been witness to a lack of respect for differing viewpoints that has, at times, been uncomfortable to continue reading. On some forums it has almost been dismissed as a negative concept and not good enough to just be aware of autism. While I understand the need to move beyond awareness, there must always be a starting point. Different people come to the beginning of their ‘autism journey’ at different points in their life due to a range of situations and events. They all need to start with that awareness to build the next stage upon. This is true of any new concept and if you are reading this as a teacher, think how we use awareness when we are teaching as way to introduce a new topic to lay that baseline and build further knowledge upon.
As a former teacher, I remember having a diabetic child in my class for the 1st time and how the nurse visited to make me aware of the condition, what that meant for the little girl in my class. How I needed to be aware of the signs her sugar levels were low and become aware of what she could have to bring those up. Awareness of how to do a blood test, read the result and make a decision on the next step. Did I consider awareness too basic? No because when her blood sugars went low in assembly and I was the only member of staff aware of what was happening, a reading of 1.5 when tested, I knew what to do and knew it had to be done quickly.
So, while I questioned my own viewpoint last week, as a result of the content I was reading, I came back to my own original thinking. Autism Awareness is important and should not be dismissed. So why is that?
Understanding autism is not a linear journey and we dip into different phases of awareness as we move along. Even as an autism specialist teacher, consultant and trainer, I experience autism awareness at different levels and in different phases. I simply can’t know everything and am always keen to raise my awareness of topics within autism that I am less experienced in. Is that a negative? No. It’s setting a baseline for moving forward to more knowledge and understanding, acceptance of concepts new to me, informing my professional practice. Ultimately, those I am supporting benefit from that process.
At autism act, I strongly believe it is my role to support people to build their knowledge of autism by starting with awareness. By discussing autism with them, I can ascertain what level of awareness they have and can plan how I move their knowledge on in a way that meets their individual needs. This is true of schools and families. I start each piece of work using the key areas of autistic difference and that is a huge step into awareness. While many people are aware of autism, there are not always aware of what the diagnosis actually means; awareness of the areas of difference and what strengths a child may have, alongside the challenges they may face. Being aware of the key areas and how this can impact on someone’s life if adjustments aren’t made is vital for change. It guides provision and signposts those I am supporting to their next stage.
For me, autism awareness is not just about being aware of autism. It’s about awareness of other elements that are vital for change. Awareness of the diagnostic system and how that works. Awareness of the Equality Act 2010, what reasonable adjustments are and why there are needed within autism provision. School awareness of what training they may need and why they need it, how they can access the training and the benefits it will bring to a school to have fully aware staff. Family awareness relating to wider family members and how they can be part of a vital support network and why that support is needed. Parents being aware of what support they need and what services may be open to them, what the next stage of their journey may be. Both of my support pathways ‘education autism – supporting your practice’ and ‘destination autism – guiding your journey’ have their roots firmly set in awareness for more knowledge, acceptance, understanding and confidence grow.
So before we dismiss Autism Awareness as being too basic, think about what can’t happen, what won’t move forward without awareness being the first step.
And that is why I am flying the flag for autism awareness and will continue to do so.