How old are you? Do you have a job? What do you do? Do you like it?
Most of us could answer those questions within seconds and without even thinking about it, but for people on the autism spectrum, it’s not that easy.
If you spoke to someone and they didn’t answer right away, what would you do?
More than half of us living in the UK (56 per cent) would think the person isn’t paying attention, according to figures compiled by the National Autistic Society (NAS). Another 24 per cent of us would think they’re rude.
But reconsider what this could mean to an autistic person.
Being over or under-sensitive when processing everyday sensory information is common for people with autism. They can feel overwhelmed by ‘too much information’, particularly when out in public.
And if you don’t give them enough time to process that information, they might feel like this:
The video, released by the NAS today to coincide with World Autism Awareness Week, gives a vivid glimpse into the life of a 12-year-old girl with autism when she’s faced with ‘too much information’.
After becoming overwhelmed by questions and her surroundings, she can be seen struggling with her teacher while struggling to breathe. Most passers-by would describe this as a ‘fit’ or ‘tantrum’, but to an autistic person struggling with sensory overload, it’s just too much information.
More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum. This means that, for over 700,000 people living in the UK and 3.5 million Americans, hearing, seeing and feeling the world often happens in a more intense way – and it can make the world feel like a terrible place.
While 95.5 per cent of people in the UK have heard of autism, only 16.6 per cent of autistic people and their families said the public understands how autism affects their behaviour.
Holly, the 12-year-old star of the video who held the first screening of the film at her Year 7 assembly this week, said: “If just one person sees the film and is more understanding to autistic people, I’ll be happy.”
According to a new survey by the NAS, up to 68.5 per cent of autistic people and families avoid different kinds of social interaction because they are concerned about people not giving them enough time to process information, like questions.
They often struggle to filter out everyday sounds, smells and sights other people may not even notice. This can sometimes make socialising difficult, and when faced with judgemental looks and tuts, it can make life feel lonely and isolated.
Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, says that the public want to help but often don’t know how, citing a new poll that says 80 per cent would change their behaviour if they knew autistic people needed extra time to process information.
But the problem is, many people don’t know. And that’s why need to raise awareness.
We know that people don’t set out to be judgemental towards autistic people. The problem is that they often don’t see the autism, they just see the ‘tantrum’ or the ‘difficult person’ and this is making autistic people feel isolated.
It’s often the smallest change that can make the biggest difference, like giving someone extra time to reply to a question, using clear language or providing a quiet space at work or a party.
Not everyone is expected to be an expert, but basic understanding can go a long way, and understanding the effects of autism can help us build a more compassionate world.
For more information visit The National Autistic Society.