On Wednesday I caught only the last part of a conversation on the Sean O’Rourke programme; a lady and gentleman were talking about Autism.
They made the point that everyone talks about the LGBT community, and marriage changes, and different social changes that have happened in Ireland, yet nobody talks much about Autism.
I listened carefully, and realised how little I know about the condition. Scant scraps here and there.
This column felt that it’s time we all got to grips with the condition.
I was so taken by the conversation on RTE that I decided to try and create some awareness, at least, because that’s what’s needed.
Getting treated, and cared for, is essential. But awfully pedestrian.
This throws up terrible problems, because assessors are slow to actually label anyone as autistic whilst teachers etc, may be pleading desperately, at the same time, for resource teachers.
The ultimate decision lies with the HSE and once a child is found to be on the autism spectrum they are duty bound to provide a resource teacher.
Studies were carried out by numerous bodies many of whom have estimated that Autism affects at least one in 100, in Ireland.
Others have estimated it affects one in 65.
Meanwhile, in a population of five million, that means at least 50,000 of our population are affected by Autism.
Yet other studies, similarly backed up by science, put the figure as more like 75,000. Either case means that nothing like enough is being done.
If a teacher applies for help with a student, it could go on for quite a long time. For example, one teacher I spoke with said that in their school, one is “allowed” apply for one pupil to be assessed in that year. That year the assessment will usually come through. If positive, that means that nothing will happen until the following school year.
Remember, it could happen that two pupils are suffering.
So whilst understandable that a cap is being placed on the numbers applying, it could conceivably happen that more than one would in fact be in need. This is not an easy decision for a teacher to make, and neither do parents always want their child declared as autistic because some still see the condition as being stigmatised.
This is very unfortunate as an autistic child needs help, gentleness, and understanding.
As Brendan O’Connor, father of an autistic child, remarked on the Late Late show some time back, the earlier a child gets help the better chance they stand to develop with some semblance of normality. Being helped early in the child’s development makes that child quite likely to make great strides, and often they end up having a great job in future life.
One lady speaking on Sean O’Rourke’s show made a great point, when she said that normal schools are by necessity noisy places, and some autistic children can hear the noise as a din of enormous proportions thereby making them feel panicky and helpless.
A brother of the Minister for Health, Adam Harris, made some marvellous observations.
One of which was that the smell of crisps, can drive him insane so he always brings a spray with him everywhere he goes. On a train if someone starts rattling a bag of crisps he immediately sprays all around his head to prevent the smell affecting his mood.
These are normal everyday things that happen without thinking, but for anyone with autism, they can cause terrible consequences.
We need to think more about Autism.
Some example of strengths commonly associated with autism include:
• Specialist knowledge in topics of interest
• Exceptional memory for facts and figures
• Very high level of motivation in topics and activities that are of interest
• Ability to carry out tasks with a high degree of accuracy
• Excellent attention to detail
• Ability to follow instructions and rules very accurately when taught in the correct way
• Exceptional skills in creative arts, such as Art and Music
• Ability to see the world from a different perspective and so bring a different insight
• Ability to bring an innovative approach to problem solving
• Tendency to be honest and non-judgemental
• Tendency to have a strong sense of loyalty in all social relationships
• Unique sense of humour
• Passionate about hobbies and interests
• Enthusiasm for favourite interests with a drive to share this enjoyment with others
See? Autism is just another type of personality.
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