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Debbie Austin, Specialist Autism Awareness Trainer at Autism East Midlands, explains why autism awareness is incredibly vital in this weeks blog entry.

Why do we need autism awareness?

It is vital to raise awareness of what autism is as there are many myths and assumptions made about autism that are still pervasive in society today.

One of which is the assumptions made about prevalence. We know that many women and girls are still battling to gain access to experienced clinicians and quality diagnostic services as many are told “You can’t be autistic you’re a girl” or “you don’t look autistic”. The assumption of autism being a male only condition is still prevalent in society today, despite much awareness raising.

We are also starting to understand that autism can present differently in many high functioning women and girls and screening tools are being developed to capture this difference. This will hopefully bring about much needed change to the diagnostic process and experience for many women and girls who currently find themselves having to explain why they appear socially competent.

It is also vital we start to better understand and promote the potential and strengths of many autistic people as autism can often be viewed in a negative light regarding quality of life and independence, with many parents and guardians worried about the future outlook for their son or daughter if they are diagnosed with autism.

This lack of awareness of what autism is, and the lack of access to experienced clinicians and quality diagnostic services is preventing many from accessing the support and understanding they need.

We know that with the right support and understanding people can thrive and this can help maintain good mental health and wellbeing.

What are the main challenges for those on the autistic spectrum?

The myths and assumptions made about autism still give rise to discrimination in education and the workplace and the lack of support and understanding. Many people still see autistic people in terms of deficits, instead of the strengths and potential of a mind that “thinks differently”

In the workplace, many on the spectrum can find it difficult to get on with colleagues and maintain employment and this can have an adverse effect on their mental health. We know that meaningful and supportive employment is the key to wellbeing for many people.

Ultimately, more role models are needed in society, to raise awareness of the incredible potential and achievement that many autistic people can attain, if only society understood autism better and gave them a chance. Historically many people would have masked and hidden their traits if they were able to. We can only assume who in the past may have been on the autism spectrum.

And so, we are learning more and more about the condition as more people are becoming diagnosed in later life and are telling us about their experiences.

Kanner and Asperger first spoke about the potential of autistic people in the 1940’s; all these years later, this should still be a key point in challenging the assumptions of autism.