Autistic Children and Young People: How to Help Us

I have spent the past 12 months gathering the views of autistic children and young people: what is important to them, what their biggest challenges are and what they would like to change in their lives.

Before reading this, please watch this music video I have created, sharing the voice of some of these children and young people.

I have created surveys and questionnaire which to date over 900 autistic children have responded to, I have interviewed and spoken directly to around 80 children and have also consulted with hundreds of autistic adults on what they wish life was like for them when they were children.

There are four key themes that were identified during this process, and I would like to share these 4 themes with you.

Please be mindful this is just an overview of the priorities of autistic children and young people. More in-depth information, support and plans of action will be shared in the future.

Theme 1: The importance of self acceptance

As part of the most recent survey, one of the questions was:

“If you could change one thing about your life right now, what would it be?”

Here are some of the responses:

  • “My autistic behaviour”
  • “I wouldn’t have the conditions that I have”
  • “I’d go back in time and stop myself being born”
  • “I would be dead, or I would of won the lottery so I could fix what I see wrong with the country”
  • “To not be autistic and not suffer from mental health problems”
  • “The impact of autism on the rest of the family”
  • “To not have autism”

These responses show a very sad story. How can you live a happy life and thrive when you have learnt to despise an integral part of who you are?

Being autistic means you have to live a different life, but that different life can still be a happy one. Once children learn to accept themselves as autistic and start learning how to live an ‘autistic life’, things usually change for the better.

However, to get to that point, children need to be given opportunities to learn about autism and what being autistic means for them. Parents and professionals often attend autism training, but what about the children themselves?

However, there is a huge barrier to self acceptance. How can you learn to accept yourself as an autistic person if you are mistreated and misunderstood as a result of your differences?

Picture1

Therefore, there is a chicken and egg situation. Autistic children need to be supported with the other challenges they are facing at the same time to reach self acceptance. Here are some of the challenges young people would like support with to achieve this goal:

“If you could change one thing about your life right now, what would it be?”

  • “More friends”
  • “Not have to go to school”
  • “Wish I was more confident and less like a burden”
  • “To feel like I’ve done something right”
  • “People to have more time for me”
  • “I would like to worry less”
  • “My life understanding”
  • “Other people to understand me behaviour”
  • “To feel happier”
  • “To not be bullied”

Theme 2: School

Problems faced by autistic children and young people at school fit into four main categories:

  1. Bullying – It is widely recognised that bullying is an issue that affects the vast majority of autistic children and young people. Bullying needs to be tackled at its root, rather than the alternative of ‘teaching resilience and coping strategies for bullying’. This is the only way autistic children can truly feel safe and happy.
  2. Lack of understanding
  3. Lack of support
  4. Peer acceptance – Schools shouldn’t just strive to stop bullying. They should strive to promote acceptance of autistic children and young people so that they feel safe and secure. Research shows sense of school belongingness has a tremendous impact on future outcomes in SEN children and young people.

Theme 3: Parental attitudes and support

Just as autistic children go on a journey of discovery and self acceptance, parents must too, and they need to be supported with that.

Every parent has their goals, dreams and aspirations, and their children usually fit into that.

However, when you have an autistic child, your life may not be how you previously expected it to be.

Just as autistic children need to learn that they need to live a ‘different from the norm life’, parents of autistic children need to be taught that and given support with this too.

Parents also need to have a support network around them to help with this.

I want to share a fantastic article that Debby Elley from Aukids Magazine wrote (please check them out!) about the impact the right support can have:

Picture2

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Theme 4: Loneliness and the autism community

So many autistic children (and adults too!) are incredibly lonely.

Picture6

There are three things that have been expressed by almost every single autistic child who has responded to the surveys or who I have been in contact with:

  • They would like more friends
  • They would like more social opportunities and fun things to do
  • They would like more opportunities to meet and learn from others who are also autistic

Some children I met with even helped to create the below image, which they say is the ideal ‘life cycle of the local autism community’, which is a place where they can meet other autistic children, make friends, do activities and learn from the experiences of autistic adults.

Picture8

Please get into contact if you have any questions or would like some support with anything related to the above. I will be more than happy to help.

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