World Autism Acceptance Week 2023
What is World Autism Acceptance Week 2023?
Held this year between 27 March and 2 April, World Autism Acceptance Week is an annual event focused on educating people about autism and highlighting how the condition affects people and their lives. The event first appeared in 2007 as Autism Awareness Week, and each year has looked to raise awareness of autism and champion autistic people all over the world.
As with most awareness days, World Autism Acceptance Week 2023 has a theme, with this year’s being colour. This theme has been chosen to reflect the notion of their being an autism spectrum.
Despite what many people might think, the autism spectrum is not linear, with people placing somewhere along a line starting at ‘not autistic’. In fact, this idea is dangerous, offensive and does not provide a realistic picture of the myriad and varied life experiences of autistic people.
Instead, the autism spectrum is more like a pinwheel, with different autistic people displaying different symptoms of the condition. The appearance of one symptom does not make any one person ‘more’ or ‘less’ autistic than any other autistic person.
What is autism?
Autism is a condition which affects people in different ways, with all autistic people having individual strengths and weaknesses. However, the National Autistic Society groups difficulties that autistic people might face into six groups:
- Social challenges. Autistic people may have difficulty reading social cues and interpreting verbal and non-verbal communication. This may present itself through taking things literally and not understanding abstract concepts, or needing extra time to process information.
- Repetitive behaviour. For some autistic people, routines can be very important as they help make the world more predictable. Autistic people may also engage in ‘stimming’ - behaviours such as rocking or repetitive use of an object which may either provide a sensory input, or help block overwhelming sensory experiences out.
- Sensitivity to stimuli. Autistic people’s senses may be very sensitive to certain stimuli. Lights may appear too bright or noises too loud.
- Specialist interests. Some autistic people may develop hobbies and interests which they focus on intensely. Being able to use this ability to focus deeply can sometimes help with academic studies, but focusing deeply on interests can also mean that some people neglect other parts of their lives.
- Anxiety. Autistic people can be more prone to experiencing extreme anxiety. It is estimated that over one-third of autistic people have serious issues with their mental health.
- Meltdowns and shutdowns. Exposure to overwhelming stimuli or unexpected change can cause immense distress to autistic people. As a result, they may experience a meltdown, typified by the loss of behavioural control. Alternatively, a shutdown may occur, where a person is quieter, doesn’t respond as keenly to stimuli and seems as though they have ‘switched off’.
How can I celebrate World Autism Acceptance Week 2023?
As with all awareness events, the goal of National Autism Awareness Week 2023 is to increase the volume of conversations people are having and demonstrate the need for understanding, compassion and education.
There are also fundraising activities that people can take part in to provide charities with more resources to provide support to the autistic community. While the National Autistic Society encourages individuals to create their own fundraising plans, this year they are also promoting a sponsored ‘spectrum colour challenge’.
The rules of this challenge are very loose, but participants are encouraged to do something colourful, whether it’s dye their hair, hold a colour-themed quiz or wear multicoloured clothing. There is no wrong way to complete this challenge, and people’s plans are welcome to be varied and unique as the people the charity looks to support.
How can I support the mental health of autistic children?
The ‘Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years’ statutory guidance makes it clear that all schools should take measures to meet their legislative duties in supporting children with special educational needs. This includes children with autism. To assist you in complying this, we have produced a webinar titled ‘Supporting the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Pupils with Autism’.
This webinar will provide headteachers , school leaders, mental health leads, SENCOs and teachers with first-hand experience of how to support pupils with autism and overcome some of the common challenges schools may face.
Presenting the webinar is mental health and wellbeing expert Anna Bateman, who will discuss the complexities of autism in an educational setting and provide practical advice using real-life examples on how schools can support students who are autistic.
How can I support autistic children in early years settings?
Ensuring good provision for autistic children in early years settings can be of massive benefit to the future wellbeing of the child as they develop positive routines and relationships that prepare them for school life beyond EYFS settings.
In our webinar, ‘Understanding and Supporting Children with Autism in Early Years’ Cheryl Bedding, Director of Aperion Training, consultant, quality inspector with 30 years’ experience in childcare, provides insight into Autism Spectrum condition and associated conditions.
Cheryl explains how early years providers can support integration and create equality of opportunity, setting all young children on the path towards happy and successful school experiences. Moreover, she provides practical guidance on creating inclusive early years environments which are fully supportive of individual need.