We need to talk about Autism

Recent articles in the Times have highlighted the plight of children and young people with autism. One such article (Times 22.5) has the highly emotive title “‘Autistic children are seen as less than human.’ The article goes on to describe a boy who has been home schooled from the age of eight, admitted to hospital at ten, and is now, at thirteen, locked up, isolated, in a mental health ward. The article makes sad reading. We have a boy of thirteen, doubtless one of many young people in this situation, never having mixed with peers in a normal school. What kind of future is in store for this child and others in similar situations? The writer of this article (Jessie Hewitson) makes the point that funding is not the only source of the problem. It is about empathy. How do we begin to understand the plight of children such as these? Why was this boy home schooled? Were his needs so severe that mixing with his peers was not an option?

A further article (Times 25.4) points out that we are wasting the talents of autistic people, and cites the climate activist, Greta Thunberg, as a source of inspiration for all autistic people. Just 32% of autistic adults are in paid work. Why is this, when about half of people with a form of autism are of average or above average intelligence?

Society has made great strides in recognising the needs of young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. But there is still much to do: and Autism must be placed at the top of the agenda. Professionals do not know everything. We need to seek the help of autistic people themselves in order to understand and help those with severe levels of this debilitating condition. Yes – we do need empathy and the problem is urgent. It is time to lift our heads out of the sand and do something about it.

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