30 Apr

Written by Stephanie Eustice, School Psychologist

World Autism Awareness Day is April 2 and marks the start of Autism Awareness Month, an opportunity to highlight the contribution that individuals with Autism bring to our community as well as learn more about some of the unique challenges that they may face.

The human experience is a diverse one. Each one of us brings a unique perspective and set of strengths to our community. In our current COVID-19 world, this has become even more apparent. As a society, we have celebrated the strengths and skills of our healthcare workers, our teachers, our supermarket employees, our cleaners and countless others who work each day to keep us safe and healthy.

World Autism Awareness Day is an opportunity to highlight the contribution that individuals with Autism bring to our community, as well as learn more about some of the unique challenges that people living with Autism may face.

Autism is often referred to as being a ‘line’ or ‘spectrum’ (from one extreme to the other). However, we know that the experience for each person is different. It may be more useful to think of Autism as being like a soundboard with each dial representing a different skill area. Skills like social communication, social interactions and sensory processing. Each person has their own individual “setting” – some dials may be turned up more than others.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

At SPW, we understand the importance of getting to know each child. Class teachers take time to discover each student’s areas of strength. They also identify skills that may require extra support, in order to better tailor learning strategies to each child’s needs.

For students with Autism, this may include creating opportunities for learning activities to align with their interests, creating an environment where each student is comfortable having a go, incorporating additional breaks or regulation strategies as part of the routine or designing a quiet space for students to access if they feel overwhelmed.

Developing a strong partnership between teacher and student does take time. We appreciate the information families provide about their child’s needs to assist this process. The Learning Support team are also a key support for students, staff and families. The partnership between families, school staff and students is an essential ingredient for successful learning.

 COVID-19 Impacts

Times of significant change and stress, like the situation we find ourselves in now, can present additional challenges for those with Autism, both at school and at home. These challenges may include big changes to daily or weekly routines, not being able to take part in favourite activities (such as going to the swimming pool) and trouble finding their favourite foods in the supermarkets. In addition, working through feelings of worry or stress can also be overwhelming.

While these experiences may sound similar to your own, a key difference may be the extent to which these changes impact on our day-to-day lives. Reflecting on our feelings of being overwhelmed with information, the frustration of not being able to take part in our usual routine and the general worry that comes with uncertainty may help us understand more about what this may be like for someone with Autism.

At SPW, we are supporting students to adapt and be flexible as we respond to the latest health information. For all students, including those with Autism, we are explaining changes that need to happen and supporting each other to develop new routines.

Autism is part of the neurodiversity that makes up our society. Everyone’s brain is different. Understanding how we learn and think helps us to identify what supports or strategies may assist us in different environments. It can also help us identify our strengths. There are many famous people who identify as being on the Autism spectrum.

Meet…..Greta Thunberg

Greta is a climate activist who advocates for greater global responsibility in response to climate change. She has engaged both young people, as well as world leaders, in discussions about the environmental wellbeing of our planet. Greta acknowledges that being on the Autism Spectrum has its own set of challenges. She explains that “under the right circumstances, given the right adjustments, it can be a superpower.” Greta’s tenacity and ability to deeply focus on a particular topic, has made waves around the world. She has  prompted many to rethink how we contribute to caring for the world we live in.

Meet….Satoshi Tajiri

There aren’t many who haven’t heard of or played Pokémon. Satoshi Tajiri, is the creator of Pokémon. He was inspired to create the series based on his two passions – studying bugs and a love of video games. Mr. Tajiri’s observational skills, attention to detail and creativity assisted him to create the Pokémon universe. Playing Pokémon has provided many children with an opportunity to connect and communicate with others. It also showcased how detailed knowledge about a particular topic can help create something enjoyed by millions!

Further Resources:
Autism SA – What is Autism?

Autism SA 2021 Conference Series: Achieving Meaningful Inclusion

60SecondScience- Answers to common questions and queries with Professor Andrew Whitehouse