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April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, a day designed to help raise awareness for all developmental conditions on the autistic spectrum, from Asperger’s syndrome, demand-avoidance and others. In order for autistic people to be integrated into and be able to operative optimally in society, it is important to inform everyone as much as possible about what autism is.

There’s a lot of myths and misconceptions about autism out there.

 Many people think that autism is a mental health disorder. Actually, autism is technically defined as a development disability. People with autism may experience the same wide range of mental illnesses as anyone else, but autism is not a mental illness itself.

Another misconception that people have about autism is that people eventually grow out of the condition as they age. In fact, autism is a lifelong condition, and while there are ways of dealing with the condition through support, there is no ‘cure’ for the condition. (Indeed, many people who have autism learn to embrace the condition as central to their sense of individuality.)

But perhaps one of the most pervasive myths about autism is that all people with autism have genius IQs. While it is true that some individuals with autism have high IQ, 44-52% of people who have autism also have some kind of learning disability. ‘Savant’ abilities like perfect memory are very rare.

So if all these things are myths, that begs the question: What is autism, exactly?

The National Autistic Society defines autism as a ‘lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people and how they experience the world around them.’

There are a range of symptoms, from difficulty with social communication (ie understanding complex facial cues, tone of voice, irony, abstract concepts) and difficulties with social interaction (a strong desire to be alone, insensitivity) to repetitive behaviours and strict routines. People with autism also tend to have sustained and highly focused interests in one particular subject and have higher sensory sensitivity to light, sound and touch.

It’s important to state that autism should not be seen as a deficiency: it is simply another way of viewing the world. Indeed, some studies have shown that people with autism actually have a higher propensity for creative thinking.

Autism is far more prevalent than many people think. Around 1.1% of the UK population, or around 700, 000 people, have a condition that can be placed somewhere on the autism spectrum. Of these, 100, 000 are children.

Despite the commonality of autism in our society, 79% of people with autism feel isolated from society in some way. And though many people know of autism, not many are familiar with the condition. 73% of autistic people say that they change their behaviour in order to reduce the chance of intolerance from the public. Many autistic people become anxious in social situations, easily experience sensory overload and can suffer from uncontrollable meltdowns. Such behaviours, outside of context and understanding, can inspire negative reactions from people unfamiliar with the condition.

There are many people working in health and social care trying to help people with autism thrive. So many centres now need to provide qualifications to meet demands set by the increase in awareness of autism. In order to meet this demand, TQUK has developed the TQUK Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Autism (RQF). The purpose of this qualification is to develop the learner’s knowledge and understanding of autism and how to support individuals with autism to live healthy and fulfilled lives. We love working with training centres to deliver qualifications like this. We know that certifying people will mean they have the quality training, and that quality training will ensure a positive impact on someone’s life. That makes all the difference.

To learn more about autism, visit The National Autistic Society, Ambitious about Autism and the NHS.

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See you out here!