Autism is a neurological difference. It is not with big capital letters, a mental health condition. Autism is a spectrum of talents and abilities, some may have an associated learning disability (I have a fixed cognitive impairment on top of my autism) or be non-verbal. I can 100 per cent say just because a person doesn’t verbally communicate, it doesn’t mean they haven’t got something to say or share. However, autism impacts a life we are all still capable of experiencing the emotions of life (in many ways I feel more sensitive than joe blogs, I certainly fall in love in the same way as the rest of planet Earth).
In the 15 years plus I have known autism to be my lifelong companion, I have done tv and radio interviews, been to art college, use a speech app to break theatre boundaries at Solo Theatre in London, and was involved in two Theatre Royal Plymouth productions. And plenty of trips to Paddington, and an unforgettable ride on some Transport for Wales’ Pacers.
Loneliness and neglect can be massive issues for Autism. Yes, the internet age has brought Zoom which was probably been a lifesaver in lockdown but it can’t replace meaningful human contact. (and without an internet connection you can’t even have a zoom call) I seriously worry that the cost of living crisis is going to cause the neglect in Autism to rise significantly.
Another aspect of Autism is the scandalously low employment rate. It has barely moved upwards in the time I have spent in disability. It creates needless and entirely preventable poverty. If you are experiencing poverty then it’s unlikely you have immediate internet connections to apply for work (libraries may not be open daily or be just five minutes down the road, especially in rural areas like Cornwall) I have been lucky in terms of work but often been forced to take work that meant my National Insurance stamp wasn’t paid. This in turn prevents you from accessing financial support from the welfare system. The eligibility rules for disability independence payment are not autism-friendly. For a good deal of my adult life, I have had very little support from the welfare system. (currently, I don’t receive any financial help from the system) But am I going to cry about it? no, I’m not.
It is likely that some of the refugees escaping Ukraine may be on the autistic spectrum ( as with people seeking safety from war and conflict across the world). Life can be hard enough but coping with fleeing a war zone or famine would be unimaginable. I would certainly crumble, and Autism can’t do empathy?
So how should we end this conversation, well despite all the hardships, discrimination, neglect, pain and being treated as non-human beings, there is still a spark inside me (getting old but it’s still there). I believe as humanity does reach for the stars, Autism will share the same adventures. Ultimately Autism deserves to be loved, receive loads of cuddles and be supported to go boldly.
Article by APLE Member Chris Burns.