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WORLD AUTISM AWARENESS WEEK

It has been trending on Twitter and featured on Facebook.

Discussed both online and off.

In newspapers, in books and in magazines. On television – the tales told both factual and fictional.

That autism is in the spotlight like never before is beyond any doubt.

Yet understanding – proper understanding – remains elusive.

This is a central theme for this, World Autism Awareness Week, which as the name suggests, is striving to bring awareness and understanding to more in our midst.

‘Until everyone understands’ is a phrase often repeated in the campaign material.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, but one that is so important to pursue.

Because autism isn’t rare. Because it poses significant challenges. Because a little understanding goes a long, long way.

‘In 22 years [only] one person has offered to help,’ explains the narrator in a powerful film made for World Autism Awareness Week by the National Autistic Society. ‘Most stare and make comments’.

It is this – the staring, the comments and the ignorance that lies at its heart – that, as a society, we all must work harder to address.

Because as the aforementioned film reminds us, “over half-a-million autistic people [in the UK] feel socially-isolated.”

Because, to quote another narrator, “[to be autistic is] to feel like a goldfish, trapped in a bowl by an invisible wall of glass, looking out into a world [you] try so hard to join”.

That in itself is bad enough, but add the staring and the comments to the mix and it becomes quite clear that, in regards to our awareness and understanding, we have a fair distance still to travel.

To put ourselves in a person with autism’s shoes.

To experience the sensory overload.

To consider whether or not in such circumstances YOU could make it to the end, is a question posed in another informative film that features the poignant and powerful line ‘I’m not naughty, I’m autistic’.

To understand autism, the person and what to (and what not to) do.

Because myths and misconceptions can cause deep distress and damage.

Autism is not a disability or, has been suggested, a ‘modern plague’.

Autism is out there and those at the sharp end are doing their utmost to deal with it.

The time has come for the rest of us to do the same.

To understand. To be aware.

The social media campaigns, the autism-friendly cinema screenings and supermarket time slots, the television programmes et al; these all represent a significant step in the right direction.

Yet it is clear that there is a long way still to go.

Until everyone understands.