What you can do to help someone with autism

Could you make someone happy this Christmas? Alice Cooke looks at the disorder affecting the lives of 1 in every 100 people and shares what you can do to help

Thomas Goodall got an early Christmas present last month when Doctor Who actor Peter Capaldi sent him a video message. The nine year old from Southampton suffers from autism, and wrote a letter to Capaldi asking the actor for help following the death of his grandma in October.

His father Ross said: “He was beaming from ear to ear and couldn’t believe what he was seeing.” He went on to say that his son responded by smiling for the first time since his bereavement. The message has now been viewed over 800,000 times on YouTube.

This was a god-send for Thomas, and by all accounts helped him immensely, but what of the estimated 10,000 other autistic people across Hampshire? Do you know what autism is? Do you understand it? If you think this is patronising then you may be surprised to hear that according to the National Autistic Society, around 700,000 people in the UK may have autism – that’s more than 1 in every 100. And autism doesn’t just affect children: children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. Over 40 per cent of children with autism have been bullied at school. Over 50 per cent of children with autism are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them. One in five children with autism has been excluded from school, many more than once. Nearly two-thirds of adults with autism in England do not have enough support to meet their needs. At least one in three adults with autism experience severe mental health difficulties due to a lack of support. Only 15 per cent of adults with autism in the UK are in full-time paid employment. 51 per cent of adults with autism in the UK have spent time with neither a job, nor access to benefits, 10 per cent of those have been in this position for a decade or more. Heard enough yet? Feeling a bit uncomfortable? Good. We as a county could do so much more to support those among us who are living with the many challenges of autism every day.

Children and young people with autism spectrum disorders can find it hard to develop relationships, to understand other people’s feelings and the accepted social rules of communication. Everyone with an autism spectrum disorder has difficulties in three main areas: Social interaction - they appear indifferent to other people or don’t understand how to take turns. Social communication - they don’t fully understand the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice. Rigidity of thinking and difficulties with social imagination - they have a limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied and done repetitively.

We all like to think of ourselves as Good Samaritans, but how many times have you stopped to consider what you might be able to do to help this Christmas? Or is it that you are aware but unaffected and therefore unconcerned?

Autism is a serious, lifelong and disabling condition. Without the right support, it can have a profound, sometimes devastating effect on individuals and families. Why not pledge a little of your money, your time, or even just a moment of your thoughts this Christmas to the many children and adults across Hampshire that live with autism?

To find out more or to donate, go to www.autismhampshire.org.uk***

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