Last year, Wolverhampton announced its intention to become an Autism Friendly City by 2021, and one of the key aims of Wolverhampton's Joint Autism Strategy is to increase the awareness and understanding of autism among individuals and organisations.
Around one in 100 children and adults – approximately 2,500 people in Wolverhampton – are estimated to have an autism spectrum condition, affecting how they communicate with and relate to other people, and how they see, hear and feel the world around them.
Although everyone is different, people on the autism spectrum may be under or oversensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours, which can make everyday life extremely difficult; be unable to or find it harder to speak; need longer to process information; or find it hard to hold conversations.
They may also experience intense anxiety around unexpected change and in social situations, or become so overwhelmed that they experience debilitating physical and emotional ‘meltdowns’. Without the right support or understanding, autistic people can miss out on an education, struggle to find work and become extremely isolated.
The National Autistic Society's Too Much Information campaign challenges the myths, perceptions and stereotypes around autism, and offers the following top tips about how people can make life easier for someone with an autism spectrum condition:
- Meltdowns – when an autistic person gets overwhelmed by everything around them, and may begin to shout, scream, cry or lose control. The National Autistic Society says: Spare a moment. First things first – try not to judge. Be patient, calmly ask if they're OK and give them some time and space to recover. That really is all it takes to help.
- Unexpected changes – the world can be an unpredictable, confusing place for autistic people, and that makes a set routine crucial for getting by. So when something unexpected still happens, it can feel like the whole world is spinning out of control. The National Autistic Society says: Give some warning. The best way for an autistic person to deal with unexpected changes is to, well, expect them! So if plans do change, let them know in advance. A little notice and understanding can go a long way.
- Social anxiety – trying to understand what others mean and how to behave can be exhausting and stressful for autistic people, causing many to end up feeling excluded and isolated. The National Autistic Society says: Take an interest. Invite them to join in as much as they feel they want to. And if they're struggling, just offer some support. A little really can go a long way.
- Processing time – sometimes autistic people feel like they're getting 'too much information' and need a few moments to filter through it all. This is called processing time. The National Autistic Society says: Give a minute. Ask one question as simply as you can, and just wait. If you still don't get a response, try rephrasing it or writing it down instead.
- Sensory overload – autistic people can be sensitive to lights, sounds, smells and sights. This can lead to an overload – and a meltdown. The National Autistic Society says: Make some space. Lots of little things can add up to an overload of sensory information. Which means little things from you can cut this down – try to avoid talking over each other, turn down your music, or even just offer to dim glaring lights.
Robert Hart, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Head of Service for Inclusion Support, said: "As a city, we are committed to offering as much help and support as possible to people young and old with autism and to their families, and we have made significant progress over the last few years in developing new services and support pathways.
"But there is still much more we can all do to improve the understanding of people with autism, and the advice from the National Autistic Society highlights the small things that everyone, whether they are individuals, small businesses or major employers, can do which will make a big difference to the lives of people with autism."
For details of local help and support services, visit the Wolverhampton Information Network.
Today’s World Autism Awareness Day is part of World Autism Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday (7 April); for more information, please visit the National Autistic Society website.