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Raising Awareness Light It Blue

April was Autism Awareness Month, which was an effort to promote autism awareness, inclusion and
self-determination for all. The aim is to encourage people to become part of a movement toward
acceptance and appreciation.
But first of all, what is autism? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
classifies Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders
characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behaviour and difficulties with social
communication and interaction. The spectrum refers to the fact that each individual with autism is
unique there is a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability in functioning that can
occur in people with ASD.
Why do we need an Autism Awareness Month? Awareness events organised throughout this month are
a way to get people excited about the cause and get them to dig deeper and search for more
information. Its educational awareness events give people key information about what autism really
is. It is critical for making communities more welcoming for individuals with autism and their
families.
Education is extremely important as there is still a lot of stigma and misconceptions when it comes to
autism. The NHS website lists a number of misconceptions that people have about autism, including
the belief that people with autism have special abilities or that autism mostly affects children
(however as the NHS points out, a child with autism grows up to be an adult with autism). The NHS
also highlighted that while certain characteristics of autism were well known (for example, difficulty
communicating) other common characteristics (such as the need for clear and unambiguous
instructions) were not known. Also, a study in the UK showed that certain parents were scared to
accept the diagnosis of their child because they believed the label would lead to stigma and rejection;
they believed that it would lead others to think maybe I don't want my child to play with him.1
Education is therefore key to reducing the stigma attached to autism.
1

Russell & Norwichs study Dilemmas, diagnosis and de-stigmatization (2012)

This month MHSA, SIERA, KSU, Inspire and Betapsi contributed to Autism Awareness Month by
organising an event which aimed to give students a taste of what its like to live with autism. The
event was called Sensory Overload Simulation and took place on Friday, April 15 of 2016.
The event consisted of several activities exploring the over-stimulation of the senses which people
with autism experience. The first activity consisted of visual over-stimulation: the participants had to
read a book while strobe lights flashed in their eyes. Another activity was auditory over-stimulation
which involved the participants having to fill a shopping bag while having noises blasting through
headphones. The other activities included tactile over-stimulation (gloves filled with different
textures that were irritating and uncomfortable), olfactory over-stimulation (over perfumed hospital
masks) and taste over-stimulation (unknown flavoured jelly beans).
The event garnered interesting results. Before experiencing these over-stimulations, the participants
were asked to give their views on autism. The responses were diverse; from difficulty to sensory
overload to wut?! or unique and highly intelligent people <3 #spread the love. These answers
reflected some of the misconceptions that people have on autism (e.g. that they have special abilities),
but also showed some positive sentiments with responses such as [people with autism are] human
beings just like everyone else but that must be adapted to and respected by others to also feel
accepted by society.
The participants were then asked to give their views again after having gone through all the activities.
The new responses reflected the impact that the experience had on the participants. Some of the
answers given after the sensory experience were the following:
For me a minute felt awful, I must imagine how they feel to be in this position for longer
periods throughout their life. However this might helped me to feel more empathetic and
understanding.
[This] makes me want to persist even harder to fight against discrimination and injustice
that individuals with similar difficulties experience. I hope it has the same effects [on]
others.

Russell & Norwichs study Dilemmas, diagnosis and de-stigmatization (2012)

This event is just one of many events organised throughout the world. However it is heartening to see
that events like these actually do make an impact, one small step at a time.
We are a diverse society, and we need this diversity to be celebrated and respected. As author Maya
Angelou once said: It is time [to teach people] that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.
References:
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th
ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet. (2015). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
Stroke. Retrieved 24 April 2016, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm
Autism misconceptions - Live Well - NHS Choices. (2016). Nhs.uk. Retrieved 24 April 2016, from
http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Autism/Pages/Autismmythsandfacts.aspx
Russell, G. & Norwich, B. (2012) Dilemmas, diagnosis and de-stigmatization: Parental perspectives
on the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2012 Apr;17(2):229-45.
doi: 10.1177/1359104510365203
Schrader, J. (2015). 10 Reasons Autism Awareness is Needed Every Month - Metro Parent. Metro
Parent. Retrieved 24 April 2016, from http://www.metroparent.com/daily/parenting/autismresources/reasons-autism-awareness-is-needed-every-month/
Taylor, H., Taylor, H., Szekeres, M., Klein, T., Bastaki, S., Hu, Z., & Mandal, M. (2016). Why We
Need Autism Awareness Month - The Gazelle. The Gazelle. Retrieved 24 April 2016, from
http://www.thegazelle.org/issue/62/opinion/autismoped/
The Stigma of Autism: When All Eyes Are Upon You | Interactive Autism Network. (2016).
Iancommunity.org. Retrieved 24 April 2016, from https://iancommunity.org/ssc/autism-stigma

Russell & Norwichs study Dilemmas, diagnosis and de-stigmatization (2012)