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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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