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Monthly Archives: December 2017

Autism Awareness in 2017: How Much Progress Has Been Made?

Child sitting on the floor with headphones on to represent autism and spread autism awareness

Sensory overload is a major concern for parents of autistic children. Thanks to greater autistic awareness, more public spaces than ever before are accommodating autistic visitors.

Autism awareness is growing year on year, but 2017 has involved a wide range of coverage in the media, on the curriculum and in science. Here are the most impressive facts and figures from autism-related news stories in the last 12 months.

Autism Education

Schools are becoming more aware of additional needs for autistic pupils, but there is still work to be done. In September, the Department for Education revealed that 9,040 children with autistic spectrum disorder were excluded for a fixed term from their school between 2015-2016 – an increase of 25% since the previous year.

Last month, teacher Gemma Corby wrote a SENDCO column in the TES (Times Education Supplement) about the autism misconceptions many teachers have. She reminded readers that autism is a developmental condition, and that the National Autistic Society believes many autistic children don’t have difficulty learning. Autism awareness is vital for teachers, as they then pass it onto pupils in the classroom.

Autism and Scientific Advances

Research into treatment for autism, and research into its wider impact, continues to make the headlines. A new drug called NitroSynapsin showed promising results in early tests by scientists, suggesting it can correct many behavioural and electrical imbalances in the brain, which are found in patients with autism spectrum disorder. The findings were reported in Nature Communications. NitroSynapsin may also help sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease, by improving synapse function.

This month, the Southwestern Medical Centre in Utah announced that its preliminary research had found applying brain stimulation to autistic patients could correct some social behaviours. Using neuromodulation on the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex wouldn’t change the genetic cause of autism, but findings suggest it would improve social interaction and behaviour for those with autism. Read more about the study here.

Autism-Friendly Spaces

On 2nd October, a nationwide quiet hour was instigated by the National Autistic Society. This raised awareness of the number of people on the autistic spectrum (thought to be 11 in every 1,000 people), and the problems that public spaces – particularly shopping centres – can cause for autism sufferers, who struggle with the sensory overload of queues, crowds, displays, lighting and music.

Over the Christmas season, autism-friendly Santa’s grottoes aim to minimise sensory stimulation, by reducing distractions such as strong lighting, decorations and noise, and training Santa to understand which questions and comments could upset an autistic child during their visit. Meanwhile, cinemas up and down the country now offer special film screenings for children with learning disabilities, including autism, all year round. These screenings happen in a safe and non-judgemental space, where autism awareness is a given.

Autism in the Media

A new children’s animated series, called Pablo, gently shows young children what it’s like to live with autism. Co-created by the BBC and RTEjr, it covers the different triggers that might distress someone with autism, such as going to brightly-lit, busy places like the supermarket, or being around strong smells and sounds. The programme was warmly received by parents and children – those with lived experience of autism and without – and the programme makers were praised for helping to raise autism awareness whilst being sensitive to the needs of ASD children.

Series Two of The A Word, an autism-focused BBC drama, was broadcast this autumn and winter and was a hit with viewers. The programme portrays one family’s journey through an autism diagnosis for their son, Joe, and his life after being diagnosed. It’s actually based on an Israeli drama, The Yellow Peppers. The A Word shows how Joe has certain needs that aren’t being met locally; despite his mother wanting him to remain in mainstream school with a learning support assistant, the family has to travel for miles to reach the nearest specialist school. For more information on how The A Word writer Peter Bowker worked with the National Autistic Society, click here.

If you’re seeking an assessment for autism, ASD or Asperger’s Syndrome, please get in touch to find out more about our work in this area.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

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Child Poverty: Is a Child’s Success Dependant on a Parent’s Income?

 

Children in doorways: one standing in front of ornate wooden door, the other sitting in front of smaller door, showing child poverty comparisons

Who says the child with the bigger house and affluent lifestyle must automatically achieve more than a child in poverty?

The surge in child poverty has hit the headlines recently, and rightly so.

According to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, there were 4 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2015-16. That’s 30 per cent of children, or 9 in a classroom of 30. Much has been reported in the media that appears to assert without exception that poor children do not reach the attainment levels of their richer peers.

While this may be true in many cases, it is not an absolute fact. It also insults low income parents who tirelessly make sure their children can access sufficient opportunities.

It is a fact that children succeed, (within their individual cognitive ability levels), largely because of the attention and input of their parents. This is true whether a parent is on Universal Credit or drawing a large corporate salary.

It is undeniably much more of an unenviable struggle for parents on benefits, but it is not a given that the better-off child will reach a higher attainment level.

There are major factors that position both of these parents’ children on an equal platform after the balance weights are adjusted. What propels children to future success is the ability of their parents or caregivers to provide a safe, loving and consistent environment, in which a child is stimulated and given the scaffolding needed to move forward.

Let’s not be under any illusion: poverty is often a significant barrier. Much more should be done to help families lift themselves out of poverty. However, the constant one-sided coverage about the lack of opportunities for poorer children slaps many diligent parents in the face. Parents who with limited funds provide their children with everything they need and more to propel their children forward – socially, educationally and cognitively. We must acknowledge that many poorer parents are resourceful, committed and multi-skilled in every sense of the word.

Parents who can stay positive while going to a food bank: that is a skill worth praising.

Parents who scour through innumerable charity shops, as many of our clients do, to provide stimulating toys to their children: that is selfless.

Parents who sift nightly through eBay listings to source a second-hand laptop for the kids: that is resourceful parenting.

Raising a child on benefit or a low income relies on skills that many successful executives would find a challenge if performed day in and day out without respite.

What these parents are modelling to their children is resilience and how to find solutions to life’s challenges. It is this resilience and determination that gets us all through the hard times. Many poorer parents have this in spades.

I was at breakfast in a hotel recently, and was struck by an obviously affluent couple. Mother, wearing a white fluffy bathrobe and slippers (presumably in readiness for the Clarins spa) was impatiently adding soya milk to a bowl into which she had carefully measured, several varieties of grains. Dad had his head bowed over a newspaper while absent-mindedly spooning porridge in the direction of their infant’s head. Their child, a boy, perhaps 4 or 5 months old, was propped up with an iPad for company, seemingly being entertained by a cartoon. The animated dog on the screen was getting more porridge than the child.  Neither parent noticed. There was no communication between the couple or interaction with the child.

Seriously, can anyone with a grain of cognition really believe that this child of better-off but distracted parents has a more favourable future than a child of the involved parent on benefits or a low wage? A child who receives a book or laptop from the charity shop and has an involved parent to interact with has a flat advantage over the Armani-dressed ignored child raised by a cartoon dog.

While poverty must be eradicated by assisting people to help themselves, it is also crucial that we applaud those parents who struggle and succeed every day to maximise their children’s chances. We need to be cautious about the black and white assumptions we make without considering the other variables that are in operation.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

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