headshot photo of Jane Harris

Jane, our charity’s Director of External Affairs, reflects on the big news today from the Health and Social Care Secretary, who has announced a new Government-backed awareness campaign.

 

It’s been a pretty good World Autism Awareness Week. But the best piece of news this week was the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care committing publicly to a new public awareness campaign for autism.

It’s not before time. At the National Autistic Society, we have been advocating for this for years. In 2016, we published research from the biggest ever survey of autistic people and family members about public understanding. It showed that only 16% of autistic people felt the public understood autism. That’s just not good enough.

That lack of understanding has real consequences for people’s lives. It means other kids in school taunting and sometimes bullying their classmates rather than being their friends. It means families not feeling they can leave the house or make friends beyond what many described as an ‘autism bubble’ of people experiencing the same stigma. It means autistic adults not getting a chance to get a job and ending up socially isolated.

We’ve been tackling this through our Too Much Information campaign, all based on the Big 5 things that autistic people and family members told us the public need to know. Those 5 things aren’t complicated. If one in 100 people are autistic, we don’t need the other 99 to have degrees in autism. They’re simple things like autistic people needing more time to process information, struggling with unexpected change, some sensory overload and social situations. And that sometimes if things get too much, autistic people can have meltdowns and shutdowns.

We are really pleased that Too Much Information seems to have had an impact. Independent monitoring has found that 10 million more people understand more about autism than when we started it. But we know we have far more to do and we’ll be evaluating the campaign much more fully this year to see what comes next – and we hope that the new Government-backed campaign will use these results.

Because we know we can’t do this alone. With Government, charities and autistic people and their families working together, we can change so many more people’s attitudes to autism. We have a lot to do, but after today’s announcement, we can be even more hopeful that one day we will have a society that works for autistic people.