Joy and Kay presented a seminar at The Education Show entitled ‘Creating Autism Champions through developing peer awareness – changing attitudes to autism’. Here, Joy explains what inspired their session, and what can be done to increase awareness of – and sensitivity towards – children with autism. At the Education Show, we described a successful initiative which has helped to raise awareness of autism amongst children in mainstream schools.
From speaking to children with autism, we know that they can sometimes find the world overwhelming. The classroom and playground can be overwhelming places for all children, so with the added struggle of interacting with teachers and peers when you have autism, it is easy to see why this can be a barrier to academic, personal and social development. Kay and I believe that it is vital to increase awareness and sensitivity towards children with autism, and to help these children’s peers to understand how they can be supportive and inclusive – teaching them to accept difference and, moreover, embrace it as a positive thing.
Following the peer awareness intervention, the schools involved noticed significant improvement; pupils with autism were observed to have more positive and confident interactions with their peers, as the volunteers who completed the peer awareness training created a support network for them. Also, the volunteers were more empathetic towards the children with autism, as they had gained a greater understanding of their individual strengths and weaknesses – both as children with autism but, more importantly, as their peers and friends. We believe that this is essential, as the increasing number of children on the autistic spectrum will, of course, result in increasing numbers of adults with autism in our community.
As such, rather than putting the onus on those with autism to ‘fit in’ with school and society, we need to develop children who are aware of the various needs of people with autism and how they can work, grow and play together. Only in this way will we be able to cultivate an inclusive and accepting society that embraces and celebrates difference