World Autism Month

26 April, 2021 8:56 am

What is World Autism Awareness Month?

Celebrated in April each year, this month aims to provide an insight into autism and how it affects not only those living with it, but the people around them too.

Organised by the National Autistic Society, the month runs alongside World Autism Awareness Week (29 March – 4 April) and World Autism Awareness Day (2 April).

What is autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder which impacts a person’s ability to interact and communicate. Symptoms of autism often appear in early childhood and are identified when children don’t reach developmental milestones at the same time as their peers.

There are 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, which is more than 1 in 100. When you also include their families, autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people across the country.

Having autism affects everyday life for individuals and it’s important that we understand some of the common symptoms:

  • Not understanding the feelings and thoughts of others.
  • Struggling to explain their feelings.
  • Typically preferring their own company over making friends.
  • Feeling upset if their routine changes.

Although autism does not present itself the same way in every person, many austistic people have common strengths. These include:

  • Ability to remember information for long periods of time.
  • Ability to learn things in greater detail.
  • Strong visual and auditory learners.
  • Excel in maths, science, music or art.

Insight on autism

We caught up with a student studying hospitality at Harrogate College to hear their perspective on living with autism.

What does having autism mean to you?

Rebecca*: “My autism is my superpower – it’s something that makes me who I am.”

Are there some tasks you find more difficult?

“I’ve always struggled to make friends and maintain friendships. This is because it’s challenging for me to understand a person’s body language, facial expressions and emotions.”

What are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?

“Going out for the first time after lockdown to go shopping with my mum was really scary and anxiety-provoking. However, I overcame this fear by wearing a hidden disability lanyard which lets people know that I might require some help or support if I have a meltdown, which can happen when I feel overwhelmed.”

What support do you get to help with your autism?

“My therapist helps me work through my feelings; allowing me to understand why I might find things more challenging than other people.

“I’ve also got a therapy cat, who has helped me build up my self-esteem and my self-worth over the past few years. Cats are great for helping young people with autism, as they relieve anxiety and stress.”

What can others do to support you?

“It usually depends on the situation. Sometimes, I like sorting out the problem myself without getting someone else involved. However, it’s good to occasionally have support from an adult.”

What do you enjoy most about your course?

“The supportive network of my tutors and teaching assistant, as they all want me to achieve my best.”

What is your experience at  Harrogate College like?

“My college experience has been so much better than school. I used to get a lot of anxiety about school as I wasn’t given enough support, however the staff always go the extra mile to help me at college.”

How does Harrogate College help with your autism?

“I have a teaching assistant who is really understanding and helpful. During lockdown, they kept in touch with me and supported me in my journey to return to college. They constantly reassured me that college was safe with the new Covid-19 guidelines and we worked together to make sure I felt settled again.”

What are your ambitions for the future?

“My ambition is to open my own cafe, using the skills I’ve learnt from college and from my current job working as a kitchen assistant and barista.”

Support services

If you’d like to get support, there are many local services available.

National Autistic Society – Harrogate and District Branch

Offers support to families in Harrogate, Richmondshire and Craven who have a child or member with autism.

Harrogate Autism Parent Support

A group where parents and carers of children on the autistic spectrum can meet and chat.

Autism Angels

North Yorkshire-based charity which supports families who have a member with autism.

*This is not the student’s real name as they wished to remain anonymous.