Today is Autism Awareness Day, on average across the world, there is a median of 62 people with autistic spectrum disorders per 1000 people, and from all my knowledge and experience over prior generations there are millions more who are on the autistic spectrum who were never diagnosed. These include people with “classic autism”, Aspergers Syndrome, Pervasive Development Disorder, Autistic related ADHD, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Kanner Autism, High Functioning Autism and Pathological Demand Avoidance.
Now this “mental disorder” is close to my heart, as when I was 4 years old I was diagnosed with a form of persuasive development disorder, making myself one of over 700,000 people in the UK who have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. Pervasive Development Disorder is in general a group of disorders on the autistic spectrum which are characterised by delays in the development of socialisation and communication skills. My particular form of it; Pervasive and Expressive Language Disorder; is characterised at the age of diagnosis of lack of short term concentration, a delayed development of social skills leading to disruptive and obsessive behaviour. It took my parents a year and a half talking to expert psychiatrists, building up hundreds of pages of dossiers on my behaviour to get my diagnosis confirmed and officially recognised by my Primary School to get the help I needed when I was younger. The fact it took my parents so much difficulty to get my learning disability diagnosed less than 20 years ago shows that in the UK now 1 in 10 children are diagnosed with disabilities, how much the diagnosis, which allows earlier treatment to be more accessible and improve understanding and the life chances.
In my time, my extra support was overall a massive help for me growing up, although a 13-year-old me didn’t see it that way when some people at my high school said that they didn’t want to sit near me in class because it would mean having a helper on their table, nor 15-year-old me when 5 different people in my Science class claimed that I had ‘cheated’ when I got an A* in a Physics mock exam, but this frustration had came from that the knowledge of my form of autism and the level of support and physiologist theory my parents got for treating it had brought me on so much that in my teenage years many people wouldn’t have even known there was anything different about me if I hadn’t of had a helper. This did make me for a number of years claim that I was somehow ‘cured’ and didn’t have any traces of autism at all anymore, something which is obviously preposterous, and it wasn’t until I was about 20 that I accepted I did still have some traces, even if as small as being sometimes socially awkward around new people or having people I haven’t seen for a long time (although this does wane if confidence or mood is high) or having a small stutter or a completionist or even obsessive mentality when coming to collecting Music or knowledge on Sport or Politics.
But the thing is, if everyone with similar issues when they are younger which are caused by the autism spectrum like I was, and they are diagnosed and properly treatment, having such a thing can actually be an asset. Would I been as invested in my work at the 2nd year of 6th form or in my dissertation to get as far as I did in academic education when at one point at High School it looked like I would be lucky to collect 5 GCSE’s? I certainly feel the obsessive compulses to cover everything certainly didn’t hurt when it came to exams.
If you look at some people with autism more broadly in the world like Spring Watch presenter Chris Packham, his Aspergers has made him an asset of knowledge in his own right. More on a down to earth, on the best reality TV show OF ALL TIME; Hunted, a contestant in this year’s version was Alex Ayling, a 26 year old Postman with Aspergers, following him over the 6 episodes, the personal development of him on the journey and him making it to survive without being captured for the whole 28 days was to me nothing short of inspirational, and his Dads frankness in some of the interviews of not understanding the condition his Son has and problems dealing with it in the past is would surely be true for many other parents of children who are diagnosed with forms of autism.
As someone who doesn’t feel any different really to any of my friends, I do honestly believe that if you give anyone in the autistic difficulties the right support and put them in the right situations to grow, they can find that having something different about themselves isn’t only no barrier to living day-to-day, but it can also be what gives you some of your strongest assets. Unfortunately we will always growing up have to deal with some ignorant teenagers or bigot adults on the way but that can even lead to a bigger character or determination to succeed and prove them wrong, it certainly did for me.