Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects individuals’ physical behaviour, communication and social skills. Recent figures published by Autistica stated that the UK spends £32bn a year, which is higher than heart disease (£12bn) and heart disease (£8bn). This £32 billion is a calculated fugure based on what is spent on treatment, care and support, as well as people’s loss of income as a result of being on the spectrum and/ or living with someone who has Autism. Autistica’s report also highlighted the importance of developing better interventions that are effective in order to make better use of resources that are scarce.
It should be pointed out that the figures have also revealed that there is very little money spent on Autism research compared to care. On average, only a mere £180 is spent on research for every £1 million spent on care. That is £6.60 per person spent on research. This clearly needs to change as effective interventions should be developed and evaluated as latest figures show that over 600,000 people in the UK have Autism.
The BBC reported that a female teacher at Corpus Christi Catholic College has been stabbed to death. A 15 year old male student has been arrested.
The Science of Dr. Who starring Prof. Brian Cox and Matt Smith (a.k.a. The 11th Dr.) is a scientific look at the beloved British programme. Enjoy!
UK supermarket giant Asda has apologised for their hugely inappropriate halloween costume marketed as the ‘Mental Patient Fancy Dress Costume’ which featured fake blood, a mask and a fake meat cleaver. They have withdrawn the sale of the said product and pledged to donate £25,000 to Charity Mind after they were bombarded with tweets from offended individuals such as ex-footballer Stan Collymore and charities such as Rethink Mental Illness.
Tesco, who had a similarly absurd ‘psycho ward’ costume (boiler suit, mask and machete) also withdrew their product subsequently and like Asda, have issued offical apologies.
As an advocate for teaching mental health awareness and diversity, I am hugely offended and horrified by the sale and advertisement of the costumes. We are still living in an age where people with mental illnesses are stigmatized, and stupid publicity stunts such as this is totally unacceptable. Not only does it fuel the negative stereotype but it also gives the masses an opportunity to publicly mock those who are living with mental illnesses. I am sure that they are aware of the fact that several people have killed themselves because they could not live with the stigma.
In addition, neither of these costumes accurately depict people with mental illness. Having visited many psychiatric wards and mental institutions, and having worked with people with psychiatric conditions, I have not seen anyone who dressed and looked like the pictures on Asda’s and Tesco’s advertisements. The mentally ill need support, understanding and acceptance. They certainly do not need any public mockery such as this. Apologies and donations are not enough.
Below are Youtube links to a fascinating documentary which featured the daily lives of three men who have Autism. I am sharing this because it highlights how different individuals with Autism are to one another. It also shows how challenging life can be if you or one of your family members have Autism.
What is it like to grow up with Autism? How hard could the transition to adulthood be? Is it easy to find a job? What about finding a girlfriend? If you want to find out, watch the clips below:
REMEMBER: It is important to know what it is like to live with Autism in order for us to understand them better. Knowing more about this condition will help us build better relationships, and communicate and work with them effectively.
More on Autism:
Autism in the classroom:
Inspiring People with Autism:
More on Savants:
Having had a busy and stressful few weeks, I felt like I needed a bit of a break to recharge my ‘batteries’. This morning, I’ve decided to get out of the house and walk around Salford Quays (Manchester, England), dragging my partner along. Since the sun decided to show up today- which is extremely rare here in Manchester, the full colours of Autumn are in display. Needless to say, today was one of the best opportunities to take some photos. Here are some of mine:
Let’s take a closer look at those trees:
Here’s my partner, taking a photo of her shoes (for Instagram? You bet!):
The Lowry footbridge, a.k.a. The Millennuim Bridge:
The sun’s rays beaming directly on the Imperial War Museum North:
Salford Quays Basin:
BBC Studios and MediaCityUK:
Seeing these Autumn colours made me feel ready to take on the challenges of the following weeks!
Below is an old-ish BBC documentary about Manic Depression, also known as Bipolar Disorder, presented by Stephen Fry. There are two subtypes of bipolar disorder: Bipolar I and Bipolar II. According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-VI), a person has to have an episode of mania for at least a week in his/her lifetime in order to be diagnosed with Bipolar I. A diagnosis of Bipolar II on the other hand, requires an episode of hypomania and an episode of depression.
Enjoy the documentary:
Over the past three weeks, the BBC has shown a documentary (WATCH BELOW) which featured musically talented individuals with Tourette’s syndrome (TS). Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological condition characterised by uncontrollable motor and/ or verbal tics. At the time of writing, there is no known cause of the condition and hence, treatments are still being developed.
In the programme, DJ/ TV presenter Reggie Yates interviewed each of the individuals to find out the severity of their TS and the extent to which their condition has affected their lives. Reggie also found that their tics however severe disappeared whenever they sing or play a musical instrument. Doing so gave them a sense of calm. These individuals were then brought together in a studio and over a period of eight weeks, they rehearsed for a concert which they performed in front of a lot of people.
I felt that the series showed how their diagnoses are only a part of their personalities. Each of them has an incredible talent which, sadly has been over-shadowed by their Tourette’s. More often than not, people tend only to focus on what people cannot do rather than what they can do. The reason why I wrote the last sentence is due to the comments made in Twitter. Almost every tweet mentioned how great, wonderful and gifted this group of people are and that their ability to stand up and sing on the concert was a massive achievement- almost a miracle. While I agree to all of those statements, I was amazed how surprised these people are with what they saw. To me, this highlights the need for us to get to know each individual that we meet, regardless of whether they have a physical and/ or psychological condition or not, as a whole person. We should not let others’ disabilities mask who they truly are. Yes, their conditions are a part of themselves and that we need to tailor our behaviours and language to their needs. But their conditions are a fraction of a whole person. Focus on what they CAN, not on what they CAN’T do.
Working with students with Special Educational Needs gave me the opportunity to see how each individual, regardless of their condition, have a unique set of strengths, limitations and extraordinary talent. Majority of students who were surrounded with people who have a clear understanding of their diagnoses and the willingness to get to know them have flourished beyond what most professionals expected. So please, open your mind, throw stereotypes out of the window and get to know each person as a whole.
Here’s the whole series:
People in th UK can also watch Part 3 on BBC iplayer: CLICK HERE
For more information on Tourette’s Syndrome, click on the links below:
Last week, BBC 4 aired a documentary wherein child psychologist Laverne Antrobus interviewed researchers in Cardiff and Nottingham Universities about recent neuroscientific research findings about Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However instead of focusing mainly on the research findings, the film centered on three cases of ASD- Tony, Jake and Michael. Tony is a teenage boy who is in the severe end of the Autism Spectrum. According to his mother, he is sensitive to a multitude of sensory inputs particularly to sound. He is very fond of youtube videos of cartoons and repeats their dialogues after watching them. Jake is younger than Tony and is on the higher functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. The film showed Jake exhibiting behavioural difficulties such as resistance by shouting at his mother. As it was explained in the film, Jake usually misbehaves at home after school. The third case focused on a 19 year-old Physics student, Michael, who has published a book about metaphors (it should be noted that people with ASD often struggle to understand metaphors).
Having worked with young people with Special Educational Needs for more than 6 years, I observed that professionals (teaching staff, etc.) and students still lack the basic knowledge about what Autism is. Research such as that of Tobias (2009) has also shown that this lack of basic understanding often lead to negative attitudes, and often, bullying, towards individuals with Autism. As a result, I am actively searching for books, documentaries, films and articles which I can recommend to people in order to increase their understanding of ASD. In my opinion, BBC 4’s ‘Growing Children- Autism’ is a good start for people who want to know more about ASD. Here’s why:
- It showed the heterogeneity of ASD. Autism is a complex disorder which affects individuals differently (APA, 1994). Francesca Happe recently stated that ‘when you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism’. Books, websites and articles about Autism often define the condition as an impairment of social interaction, imagination and communication. However, in my experience of working with young people with ASD, I can say that individuals affected by the condition can interact with others, have imagination and can communicate, but sometimes not in the way that we are used to. In addition, I have never seen two people with ASD who have the exact same sensitivity; who respond in exactly the same way to stimuli and have the exact same background. Even though BBC 4’s documentary showed only three cases (4 if you include Jake’s brother Zane), it captured the differences between each cases.
- It showed how important the families/support networks are to those with ASD. Perhaps the reason why this sticks out to me is due to my knowledge of the ‘Refrigirator Mother Theory’ which states that Autism is the result of bad parenting. Having been around families and carers of people with Autism, I can genuinely say that these families deserve more credit than they normally get. These families/care-givers are the ones who are with the people with ASD more times than teachers and psychologists. They are with them when they eat, sleep, go to the toilet, early in the morning, late at night, during the weekends and school holidays. As I’ve mentioned, the documentary showed how Jake misbehaves towards his mother when he comes home after school. This aggression is often built up at school during the day and is usually vented towards the students’ parents or caregivers- people who are at times, not very well trained at dealing with these behaviours. The documentary also showed how understanding the parents of Jake and Tony are and how their attitudes help these individuals. It should be noted that these parents’ cases can be seen as cries for help since not all parents of people with Autism receive the help and support they need from professionals.
- Lastly, it showed that there is a lot of things we don’t know about ASD. I am not denying the fact that Autism research has rapidly moved on over the past decades. However, we still don’t know what causes ASD, as a result, we don’t know how, if possible, to prevent the condition from occuring. I also believe that diagnosis can be improved in the future.
American Psychiatric Association (1994). DSM-IV Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Tobias, A. (2009). Supporting students with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) at secondary school: a parent and student perspective. Educational Psychology in Practice, 25, 151-165.
For more information about the programme, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01lyczl
For more info about Autism, visit www.autism.org.uk