Ross Punton our Autism Spectrum Disorder Staff Network chair gives an insight into living with Autism this Disability History Month.
It’s Disability History Month which runs from the 18th November to the 18th December and aims to promote awareness and understanding of all disabilities.
This year’s theme is Accessibility. I am not an expert on this topic. I fully admit that. So I will be speaking from my own experience which relates to Autism and hidden disabilities.
School was hard for me. As a child I did not learn to read until I was 10 and a half, which may surprise those who know me. I struggled to integrate and stay focused.
My diagnosis took a long time as well without going into details. My school was very good. They really brought me out of my shell. I owe them a lot for giving me a safe space and helping me grow.
I think however I failed to realise how harsh the outside world could be. The reason I told you about school was because I learned the hard way that others can be harsh and judgmental.
As I got older it became apparent that people make many assumptions. The trouble is that if you don’t behave how people perceive you should be to be “Normal” they can be dismissive.
Paradoxically if you integrate well it can also be hard to get through to others. It’s all too common for people to say “You don’t look autistic” or to be told then they make assumptions about your level of understanding. This makes me so angry. So they either assume you’re “okay” or they invent their own person and project that on you.
Okay I will mention a few specifics here as I realise this is a bit vague. Public transport was hard for me when I first started using it; the noise, the loud people and knowing what stop to get off at. It’s not so bad now. I’m fine when I know the route; ‘when’ being the key word.
I find travelling to new places really hard even now. I can do it. but I cannot just hop on the bus and relax. I have to triple check the route. I have to know when to get off.
I took a train earlier this year to get to the National Autism Conference (just before Covid-19 struck) and it was exceptionally hard to get someone to actually explain where to go and not just point vaguely.
People assume things from what I’m saying. They assume knowledge. The trouble is knowing your rights. Often people don’t even think to ask for extra support or know it’s available. It’s astounding how many people with hidden disabilities don’t wish to disclose or ask for support.
I think many people are afraid of being judged by others pre-conceived ideas. I get that; it happened to me.
Remember what I said about people treating you differently? I still remember vividly someone at a careers event who began talking to me like I was 10 as soon as I said I had Autism. They basically acted like I wouldn’t know what a job was. In retrospect I wish I’d done something but I was unemployed and less confident then.
It’s sad how many people have such fixed ideas. It’s still worth disclosing a disability though. There are also lots of supportive organisations out there. I’m not just talking about work here. I mean school, college, services.
Also public transport as I mentioned before is hard at times for people with Autism. I had a gold card for years which is a disabled pass. I was only asked a handful of times if I needed any help. I didn’t expect help as I said it was only going to new places that made me anxious but it’s nice to be asked. As I said I had to ask a few times to get help at that train station that time in London.
So I would fully encourage you to take any support you’re offered. If it doesn’t work for you or you find you don’t need it just explain that. Just don’t be afraid to enquire.
If you do have a learning disability or a hidden disability Mencap has some great tips on how to know your rights https://www.mencap.org.uk/about-us and/or National Autistic Society https://www.autism.org.uk/
Find out more about Disability History Month here https://ukdhm.org/ or search #DisabilityHistoryMonth #UKDHM on social media
Thank you all for reading