Croydon Council is on a mission to increase understanding of what it means to be autistic and bust some of the most common myths surrounding the condition.
To mark the start of World Autism Awareness Week 2017 (WAAW), today (27 March) the Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, was joined by borough autism champion Councillor Andrew Rendle; the leader of the council, Councillor Tony Newman; and other members of the cabinet as he raised the WAAW flag over the Town Hall.
Around 1 in 100 people in the UK are autistic – although many believe that number is much higher, with a larger than average number of autistic people living in Croydon. For WAAW 2017, Croydon Council is encouraging everyone who lives or works in Croydon to participate in a free e-learning course to understand how autism affects people. Developed with help from Croydon’s adult autism service and people on the spectrum, the course challenges some of the most common misconceptions and aims to help people understand what it really means to live with autism.
Councillor Rendle has personal experience of living with autism, as his two youngest children both have the condition. To mark WAAW he has made a short video (watch here) and explained why he wants to increase understanding and awareness of autism.
Councillor Rendle, explained: “Awareness of autism is very high but too many people just think of Rain Man or Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. It’s the understanding that has to be worked on. Many autistic people say the biggest help for them would be simple awareness and understanding, so please go and do our brilliant e-learning course – it’s free to anyone who lives or works in Croydon and takes no time at all to complete.”
Autism is a life-long developmental condition that affects how a person communicates and relates to other people, and the way they see the world around them. Understanding autism can be tricky as it is a wide spectrum and those on it will share certain difficulties, but their autism will affect them in different ways. It is also a hidden disability.
Councillor Rendle, who chairs Croydon’s Autism Partnership Board, said: “The big myths about autistic people are ‘they can’t hold down a job’, ‘it’s only kids who have autism’, ‘they can’t show empathy’ or ‘it’s only boys’. All rubbish. I have three amazing children. The youngest two are autistic and they have introduced me to a fascinating world.”
He added: “It has also shown me how important the family unit is for those living with autism every day and that must be supported, especially the neurotypical siblings, that’s those not on the autism spectrum, who can miss out.”
The Autism Partnership Board brings together different services from the council and its external partners to discuss matters relevant to autism and Croydon. Recently the board invited a representative from Westfield to talk about autism-friendly design and employment for the proposed shopping centre.
Croydon is also expanding its special schools and has bid for a special school for children aged two to 19 with a focus on employment at the end. The council is also doing a great deal through government agency Disability Confident to get disabled people into employment.
Councillor Rendle said: “The autistic mind is an amazing thing and employers who don’t embrace people on the spectrum are missing out on some fabulous, dedicated employees who can think outside the box and see details we neurotypicals will miss.”
For more information, check out:
Croydon’s Facebook Page for information and a place to talk to others.
Croydon Council’s autism webpages.
The National Autistic Society website.
This short video from the National Autistic Society.
Emma Selwyn, 29, has grown up in Croydon and has autism. Emma is keen to challenge stereotypes of people with autism and has been involved in drama, appearing on stage through Access All Areas and the Performance Making Diploma at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD). She attended Link Primary, Limpsfield Grange, Coulsdon College (sixth form), Liverpool John Moores University (BA Hons French and Japanese).
Emma says: “Stereotypes have a lot to answer for. For starters, it’s not only boys who are affected by autism. Many women are being diagnosed these days (and it’s about time, I say) and even some who – like me – don’t strictly identify as either.
“I ‘somehow’ have friends who turn to me in times of need. Surely that shows a level of empathy?
“I’ve ‘somehow’ worked in various customer-facing roles, ‘somehow’ did a BA which included a year abroad, ‘somehow’ appeared on TV, in academic works and in magazines, ‘somehow’ became a professional performance artist thanks to RCSSD and Access All Areas, and have even ‘somehow’ been in relationships.
“What’s with the obsession with the word ‘somehow’, I hear you ask. Because many studies say I shouldn’t exist. Rather inconveniently for me and everyone I know, it’s taken a lot of money, time and flexibility on their part to get me functioning as conventionally as I do now! For this, I thank them.”