April is World Autism Awareness Month, however, new figures by The National Autistic Society (NAS) reveal that although public awareness of autism is high, understanding is still low and we need to do more to help the one in 100 people who are on the autism spectrum in the UK. This is an estimated 700,000 people.
The common perception has been that autism affects more males than females, with studies placing the ratio anywhere between 2:1 and 16:1, male to female. However, NAS has revealed that that the number may be far more equal than we thought.
According to NAS, the reason more males than females are diagnosed with autism is that professionals often don’t understand the different ways autism can manifest in women and girls and this lack of understanding is putting a strain on autistic people’s day-to-day life, more than one in four autistic people have been asked to leave a public place because of their autistic behaviour.
The NAS survey shows that 75% of parents who have children on the autistic spectrum say that their children are often labelled as “naughty” or “strange”. 72% say that people avoid them and 74% report overt disapproval, while a massive 84% say that their children are stared at.
In England alone, there are an estimated 120,000 school-aged children on the autistic spectrum and the vast majority (73%) are in mainstream schools, however 75% of children on the autism spectrum of secondary school age say they have been bullied at school. Being autistic often means your school years are lonely, with 22% of young people on the autistic spectrum saying they have no friends at all and one in 10 saying their friends were mainly adults. Half said they would like more friends.
A fear of being harassed is a major concern for autistic people. A staggering 44% of people on the autism spectrum surveyed said they stay at home because they are afraid of being abused or harassed – almost half (49%) said they have been abused by someone they thought of as a friend.
Difficulty in finding a job limits the possibility of independence for people on the autistic spectrum and only 15% of autistic adults are in full-time paid work. 53% of people on the autism spectrum say they want help to find work, but only 10% get the support to do so. 43% of those who have worked have left or lost a job because of their autism.
Although more than 99% of the public said they have heard of autism, only 16% of autistic people and their families believe that the public have a good understanding of the condition and how it can affect behaviour.
Sanjay Shah, founder of Autism Rocks commented on the report: “Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the world and following this survey we know it is affecting more young people than previously thought. It is our wish that people have a better understanding of the condition and that sufferers are fully supported and able reach their true potential. National Autism Awareness Month presents a great opportunity to promote autism awareness, autism acceptance and to draw attention to the tens of thousands of families facing an autism diagnosis each year.”