I like this time of year, it’s getting lighter and warmer, there are signs of life in the flower beds and birds are flying around with twigs and other bits of useful nest building materials in their beaks. Spring also brings us World Autism Awareness Day. (WAAD) Celebrated informally since 1989 and officially endorsed by the United Nations in 2007, WAAD is gathering pace year on year.
Celebrated on 2 April WAAD’s purpose is to raise awareness of Autism, share knowledge, dispel myths, celebrate different thinking and I suppose, just generally wake up people who are ignorant or indifferent towards Autism.
It’s a great way of informing people and a massive statement that says “we live with Autism, we are a real and sizeable proportion of society and we make a positive and valuable contribution to the community so accept, embrace and celebrate us”. On the other hand, it’s a shame that we actually need a designated day to let people know they should treat people right and accept differences! But…we are where we are.
I have worked at Brookdale for 14 years now and have met some of the most incredible people who live with Autism who have been guests within our Autism support services. So to contribute to WAAD, I want to share some of my favourite Autism Learning moments over the past 14 years.
- Robert spoke to me as I was getting into my car one day and said “Hello Lesa, you didn’t come to see me today and I wanted to make you a hot chocolate.” As I threw my bag into the back of my car I explained that I was sorry but I hadn’t had time because I had been so busy, I had not known if I were coming or going. Robert carefully observed that I had thrown my bag into the back of my car and that I was sitting in the driving seat, and said to me “I think you are going”.
I broke one of our golden rules and used a cliché that he took literally. It was an important reminder of what I already knew about Autism friendly language. This moment sticks with me for some reason.
- One of the young men in our service who was doing an art degree at uni did not want to go back after the summer holidays, because one of his tutors had told him to avoid the student bar, as it was a lively place and he could get “eaten alive”.
It made me think for a minute, how must it feel to genuinely believe that someone could eat you alive? Scary or what?
- A special interest in Airfix model planes and boats grew, so we needed to buy an ‘Airfix shed’ to accommodate the bedroom over flow! A second shed may well be on the cards soon.
- John lived with us for a few years. He did so well that he got a job at Tesco, where amongst other things; he was responsible for trolley collection. One day he was on a bus when he spotted a trolley submerged in a river. He got off the bus, got in to the river, retrieved the trolley and pushed it 2 miles back to the store!
- In 2005 Stephen Wiltshire MBE, http://www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk/ who lives with Autism and is the most incredible artist, visited our Milton Park Hospital Campus with his family. He had lunch with us and spent time talking to our staff and residents.
After his visit, Stephen sketched Milton Park from memory and sent it to us.
The detail was spot on!! Stephen is an inspiration and gave us all a memorable day.
- One of the women using our service once found 13 typing and grammar errors in our brand new brochure, which had been proof read multiple times by three (allegedly) well educated people.
Never mind, we had only had 2000 printed and delivered! We learned from this because since this time, all of our print for publication is proof read for accuracy and Autism friendliness by our service users.
- Adrian, loved a bet. He was eventually banned from the local betting shop. He used to place bets that were extremely complicated, being a combination of multiples, yankee’s, reverse forecasts, accumulators etc. It took the betting shop staff about half an hour to work out what the odds would be (even though Adrian had already worked it out and told them), then he would tell them the great news that his stake was 50p! Yet he won hundreds. Smarter than any bookmaker I ever came across!
- Last but not least, one of the young men at Milton Park was delighted to tell me that he and a member of staff had made a pile of snow and put buttons and a carrot in it. I excitedly said “oh great snow man”. He looked very puzzled and pointed across to it saying “no, there, see, that pile of snow on the bench is what we made”.
For some reason I had slipped too far back into the neuro- typical world to immediately understand where he was coming from. Here is a pic of the ‘pile of snow on the bench’.
The above shows that the best teachers of all things Autism are those living with Autism!
I could go on and on but suffice it to say, that these are the reasons I have worked at Brookdale for 14 years and looking forward to another 14!
So, my message for World Autism Awareness Day is …..Let’s celebrate alternative thinkers for all that they bring to our lives and our society, every day, not just on the 2nd April.
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