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Colour in darkness

There’s 3 things happening this week – Autism awareness week/day and month.

Possibly the most peculiar Autism Awareness Week/Month since their establishment but also the most unifying. We are all facing the same restrictions, the same stigma, the same fears and hopes. We deal and are affected in varying degrees and we are reminded that in times of darkness the world becomes just a little bit kinder.

Along with everything else this pandemic has shed light on, it has shown us how we all require a different approach/treatment. The kiddies need to stay home and still be educated, teens need to study at home and get used to online socialising, workers need to work from home or find ways to keep their cashflow, and the older generation needs to be protected, valued and provided for. In all these categories we have the people with underlying health conditions, mental health concerns, pregnant, disabilities, unemployed, homeless, ease of access to healthcare, childcare and autism.

This pandemic treats us all equally. Money, social status, friends, and being “normal” means nothing. We are faced with the reality of our own mortality and what that means individually for us. We are starting to open up and become aware of ourselves, appreciate what we have, respect others and give help where possible.

For this autism awareness month I want this to be a place where we can learn more, read about and become aware. We will expand our horizons, open up our worlds and come through this pandemic bigger, better, more inclusive, loving and respectful. I’ll find, share and maybe use some of my own stories to show you this pandemic from an autism point of view. And to counteract the bad, I will be offering up some of my paintings for sale, to raise funds for the SMILE school for autistic adults in Cyprus.

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The “Normal” Cult

29830733_10156190751535030_853762012_oIt’s autism awareness week if you hadn’t noticed & I read this article on BBC about women on the spectrum – It all made sense when we found out we were autistic . These women are teachers, PhD candidates, artists, comedians, psychologists and they are inspiring (& autistic).

About 700,000 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum, according to the National Autistic Society. That’s approx 1.05% of the UK population.

In a one-hour special for Channel 4, tonight 28 March 2018, trainee human rights lawyer Georgia Harper and artist Sam Ahern, who both have autism, aim to uncover the true face of autism in the UK today. I hope you’ll be watching.

Autism awareness isn’t just about the future of autism, it’s also about the past and present. It’s about every person who feels they don’t “fit in”, all the times it feels like everyone else was given a manual on life, a ‘lost generation’ of thousands of adults going through life without a diagnosis. Autism awareness is about informing, spreading knowledge, sharing stories, finding new ways, and removing the stigma imposed by a system that doesn’t understand.

Autism awareness isn’t spread only by those living with autism. It’s a plague – a good plague. Awareness is born out of love, it spreads with our voices and makes an impact with our actions. It starts with sharing a story with another mum, or with children asking questions, with major airports introducing measures to help passengers with autism, shops introducing ‘autism hours’ and employers investing in autism training for staff. All the milestones we have witnessed in the world in the 5 years started with a voice.

The biggest obstacle to understanding autism is the expectation to look ‘normal’, the imposition of being ‘neurotypical’ and the social bullying that makes us dismiss and disable anything outside this fictional realm of “normal-ness”. We are programmed to treat anything different differently but what happens when you can’t see the difference? We grow up judging books by their covers and learn to condemn them when the cover doesn’t match what we thought should be inside. You ask someone,”Why is it weird if someone won’t make eye contact?”. Unless it’s a cultural trait, no one can think of an answer except a variation of “It’s not normal”.

You see someone and they look ‘normal’, they speak ‘normalish’, their lives seem ‘normal’ – they have a PhD, or a job or a family and they fit in your category of ‘normal’. As soon as you find out they are on the spectrum your perception shifts. You think, “how? why? really?”.

Autism awareness aims to infiltrate and destroy the ‘normal’ cult we subscribe to. It wants to shatter illusions of what we are supposed to do, it wants to expand our horizons and adds new words to our dictionaries. Just like all the once outcasts of this made up and exclusive society of “normal” the autism awareness movement is working. One in 100 people in the UK are diagnosed with ASD, teachers and police officers are trained, there are groundbreaking findings in ASD research and major channels invest money in documentaries, series and autistic actors/presenters (or muppets).

Autism is becoming a regular headline and it all starts with a voice. April is Autism Awareness day/week/month: here are some things you can do to help – Until everyone understands ; Wear Blue ; 30 things to do in April .