Today is World Autism Awareness Day and our local Community Shop kindly held a coffee morning selling Gingerbread Men dressed in onesies to the generous folk of Wilstone. It surprised me, but I guess it shouldn’t have (considering that NAS estimates 1 in 100 people have autism in the UK) but the vast majority of customers who came to the coffee morning either knew someone with autism or had worked with special needs kids.
Everyone was talking about last night’s Horizon programme ‘Living with Autism’. Most people had watched it (so many people are interested in learning about autism) but were confused because none of the autistic people on the programme were anything like Ellen, they were far too able. A quick glance at Twitter suggests that a lot of people who live with autism feel the same way. ‘Enforces stereotypes’ and ‘did not delve into the complexities’ were just some of the tweets I saw. Slanted programmes like that, which only focus on one end of the spectrum, do not give a full picture of what autism is actually about and it was great to be able to set the record straight – even if only to a handful of people!
Of course for Ellen the coffee morning was a bit overwhelming, as although I had told her what was going to happen I don’t think she fully understood what would be involved – and particularly the number of people who would be in the (usually quiet) shop. She came along to do her usual shelf stacking but everything was different and it took her a while to process it all and she did get a bit stressed at one point… beautifully illustrating autism for those at the coffee morning. We persevered however and in the end she did manage to put five items out on the shelves (and of course nab her Milky Way on the way out).
Today was a day when non-verbal communication really came into its own. As Ellen’s senses were overwhelmed by the dynamic situation she found herself in, it really seemed to help her not to have to worry about communicating verbally with me.
As soon as we got back home Ellen was back to normal and later on did her best McDonalds order ever. She was even disappointed when I finally took the onesie off – for some strange reason seeing her mother dressed as a zebra didn’t cause any anxiety or stress at all – what must I look like to her usually I wonder?