Each April, World Autism Acceptance/Awareness Month raises acceptance and awareness of autistic people around the world.
Autism is a spectrum of lifelong neurological and developmental characteristics that affect people’s ability to interact and communicate with others and their environment.
Some common indentifying characteristics include differences in communication and social interactions, sensory sensitivity, intense focus on special interests and stimming (repetitive behaviours).
Autism exists on a spectrum—it is not linear, and terms such as “high-functioning” or “low-functioning” can be very misleading. This is because there are many autistic traits and each person’s autism is unique.
Some traits are more obvious—others less so—and many people on the spectrum modify their behaviour to fit in with people that are neurotypical (not autistic), a behaviour known as masking. But just because a person’s autism isn’t visible, doesn’t necessarily mean they require less support.
In recent years, neurodiversity has made it into mainstream pop culture with shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Atypical.
While representation is important, media representations of people on the spectrum have perpetuated the stereotype of the socially challenged and gifted young man.
While that stereotype reflects only a fraction of this diverse population, it also highlights another issue: the lack of correct diagnosis and acknowledgement of women on the spectrum.
Due in part to research and diagnosis being male-focussed, for many years women have often flown under the radar or have been misdiagnosed. As a result, while men are often diagnosed in early childhood, it’s not uncommon for a woman to get a diagnosis late in their adult life.
Until a few years ago, it was estimated that as few as 1 in 200 people in Australia had Autism.
Due to improvements in diagnosis, changes in diagnostic criteria, new research and increased awareness in the community, it’s now estimated that as many as 1 in 70 people in Australia have Autism.
While Autism is considered medically as a “disorder” (Autism Spectrum Disorder), many members of the autistic community have reframed Autism as an important part of who they are, and often as a strength that helps them achieve their best in their career and in the pursuit of their passions.
As our understanding, perceptions and language around Autism evolves, the best way to learn more about people on the autism spectrum is from the voices of those that are actually autistic.
Check out the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag on social media and support organizations run by autistic people like the Autism Self Advocacy Network (www.asan-aunz.org).
Open your mind to the spectrum of experiences, beliefs and issues that exist in the autism community.