With recent headlines focussing on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) after Anne Hegerty entered the I’m A Celebrity jungle, we speak to Peter Baimbridge, from Salfordautism, about this and how they offer support to anybody affected by autism.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) describes autism as “a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.”
For the 700,000 people in the UK who are autistic, this changes how they process information and their sensory experiences – affecting how they see, hear, feel and understand the world around them.
Autism is a ‘spectrum disorder’, meaning it has many different aspects. Some of the key features of ASD include: persistent difficulties in social communication, interaction and processing, sensory processing and repetitive patterns of behaviour.
Yet, each individual can manifest different variations of all these aspects, meaning that every autistic person displays a completely unique set of behaviours.
Salfordautism is a Salford based organisation which offers support and inclusion for everybody who is, cares for, or is affected by someone who is autistic – wherever they are (within practical limitations).
The experienced team all have their own diagnoses of autism, so have a much more personal insights into the individualities of autistic people. They have also achieved professional careers of their own, from social worker to business owner, providing them with a unique set of skills they can apply when working to the individual needs of each person.
Peter Baimbridge, who volunteers with Salfordautism, believes that we cannot make any consistent assumptions about any autistic person – the best we can anticipate of any autistic person’s characteristics is that some autistic people may display a certain feature.
— Autism Speaks (@autismspeaks) July 12, 2017
Peter is not keen on the spectrum analogy, preferring to use a cake-mix to explain how autistic people’s make-up compares with neurotypical peoples (the majority of people whose patterns of behaviour are most alike i.e. ‘normal’).
This suggests everyone knows the difference between bread, cake and biscuit- even though they are all made from the same basic ingredients. Each category has hundreds of variations, which are achieved by tiny differences in each recipe.
The differences between autistic people and everyone else are like the difference between bread and cake.
Autism has a basic set of characteristics that are common to all autistic people, and are used in the diagnosis. Yet, as each cake has slight differences in their recipe, each person has slight differences in their make-up, which can lead to a completely unique character profile.
This individuality becomes increasingly important to note when the public pays attention to ASD.
With Anne Hegerty entering the I’m a Celebrity jungle, a much-needed conversation surrounding Autism has opened up. However, there’s the risk that because of this limited exposure, that people will develop a narrow-minded view on what an autism is.
Peter said: “Seeing high profile individuals like this makes people more aware of autism. But because it’s not a managed situation the picture they can get of autism is limited and then may become fixed in their minds. So, there’s are going to be people out there who expect every autistic person to be like Anne – which of course they are not!”
However, this publicity has also opened up the discussion of autistic adults and the late diagnosis of autism.
Anne, who is best known as the Governess from The Chase, was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2005- at the age of 46. This was after watching a film about autism which she found she could relate to on many levels.
Like many others, Anne has stated that it was a relief to get the diagnosis.
She told ‘Loose Women’ that it: “Made sense of a lot of things.”
This is common with many autistic people as the information provided by the diagnosis helps them understand themselves better, as it explains a fundamental part of their identity.
— Loose Women (@loosewomen) September 24, 2018
Peter said: “For those who accept it, diagnosis helps them to understand and accept themselves and set about finding ways of dealing with. Unfortunately, not everyone accepts their diagnosis, and this can lead to major problems down the line.”
Others see a diagnosis as an ‘unhelpful label’.
Yet, there are many benefits to getting a formal diagnosis including; a better understand of yourself, access the appropriate services/benefits and entitlement to reasonable adjustments in the workplace or education system.
Peter said: “The reality is once you get the diagnosis is, you will be no different. You won’t appear any different to anybody that knows you, but you will should be able to understand yourself better.”
However, living in a world that is designed for and run by neurotypical people, means that everyday activities can become a challenge for autistic people.
“I don’t know where I’d be if The Chase hadn’t suddenly happened.” – @ITVChase, @anne_hegerty talks frankly in our Your Autism magazine about being #autistic, struggles at work and how she became one of ITV’s top stars: https://t.co/HLknraiF9I #ImACeleb pic.twitter.com/E2MZByrva0
— National Autistic Society (@Autism) November 26, 2018
Working may seem like an average part of everyday life for most of us, with 33.4 million adults in the UK being in employment. Yet, figures from the National Autistic Society show that only 16% of autistic people are in full time employment.
The workplace can impose many different challenges, which can be as simple as bad lighting, or as complex as a difficult relationship with our boss. Yet, for an autistic person, this could thrust them into highly stressful situations.
Peter said: “the autistic person might not know they’re missing anything. And very often, even if they did know that there is something wrong, they may not have the mental makeup or psychological ability to do anything about it – so they may just blame themselves instead.”
The government scheme ‘Access To Work’ is often used to put ‘reasonable adjustments’ in place to allow people with a different physical or mental conditions to get the support they need in the workplace.
Despite this, according to the NAS, only 10% of autistic people receive employment support.
Helping an autistic person in a working environment is all dependant on their individual needs. This could be as simple as providing them with a coloured keyboard or giving them a desk with natural lighting. Yet, so few autistic people get the full level of support they need.
Peter added: “It’s quite a complex thing for most autistic people to get the support and reasonable adjustment they need in a workplace because there’s so many hurdles.”
There is no simple way in which we can break the barriers regarding autism and provide equal opportunity for every single person.
Many organisations and charities provide courses which will educate you on autism.
Peter said: “It’s like simple first aid you can learn in 5 minutes how to stop somebody bleeding to death, and you can learn very simply about how to help autistic people”
However, these courses will only ever reach a limited number of people and provide a limited amount of information. Even then, some people’s prejudices will not be changed.
Peter said: “What would actually be better for everybody is if people were just nicer in general, cut each other some slack and would stop making assumptions about others. No judgement. Just be open, accepting and kind.”
It is by people being more open minded and treating one another with kindness, that we can allow all people the chance to thrive in society.
Kimberly Rahman, a mother of two sons who are both autistic, wants to break the stereotypes surrounding autism.
She said: “Raising the profile of ASD will raise awareness by allowing people to see that autism is not something to judge or to be scared of.”
Autism is a lifelong condition, meaning that an autistic child will most probably grow into an autistic adult.
Autism is a largely genetic condition which can be impacted by environmental stimuli such as parenting, education, experience, or malnourishment.
Despite frequent claims (that are regularly debunked), there is no way to acquire autism unless you are born with it. It is not possible to acquire autism from anything like injections, infections or medication.
Autism is a genetic disorder that a person is born with. Signs of autism sometimes become more obvious as a child grows. Autism is not a disease someone gets like the common cold. You’re either born with, or without it.
— Guanglai Kangyi, Age 15 (@Gaunglai_Kangyi) November 29, 2018
As one in 100 people in the UK are diagnosed as autistic, it is essential for people to become more aware of the condition.
There are many diagnostic services across the country, but Salford uses Axia ASD Ltd. This service is based in Chester and led by Dr. Linda Buchan, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, who provide specialist neurodevelopmental assessments.
Their services, in particular their kindness and understanding, are widely appreciated within the autistic community.
They have also been particularly good at diagnosis women – who are generally less likely to be diagnosed to men (with a 1:4 ratio of autistic women to men).
Going forward, Salfordautism will continue to provide support for anybody who is affected by autism – whether in Salford or beyond.
Peter said: “We try and level the playing field so that the conditions are as equal for the autistic person as they are for everybody else. But we don’t do that by just giving the autistic person something extra, we try to change the playing field so that it suits everybody better, not just most people”.
Salfordautism provides drop in sessions and 1-2-1 support for anybody queries or problems around autism, whether for themselves or someone else.
Salfordautism 24/7 Autism Contact / Help Line 0771 390 3224. Open all through holidays. Don’t be stuck or alone this Christmas. Call us.
— salfordautism (@salfordautism) December 18, 2016
However, their most valued service is the 24/7 contact line- staffed around the clock by someone with lived experience of autism who can and will help wherever possible.
Peter added: “That’s one of the most important things Salfordautism does. The phones on 24/7 for anyone to call that has a problem or query around autism. It is essential, for autistic people especially, that they know they have somebody to back them up at any time they may need it. Very often, just knowing help is available helps individuals avoid despair, and thus they are able to manage. That’s a bit thing to give to anyone!”
If you have any questions about autism or are struggling in any way with any of these issues, you can contact Salfordautism at any time on 0771 390 3224. You can also leave a voicemail and they will get back to you quickly. If cost is an issue, they will also ring you back.