World Autism Awareness Week

By Chloe Hall.

World Autism Awareness Week begins on April 2nd 2024. The broad aim of this year’s named week is to increase general understanding of people with autism and to promote support locally, nationally and globally. 

The United Nations is continuing to campaign through a network of advocates including medics, academics and community leaders to explain real life experiences of people with autism to others within their societies and beyond. This year’s initiatives are continuing to focus on acceptance, support and inclusion through advocacy for personal rights, whether at work, within education, or social services. A key motive is to empower people with autism to be fully integrated within their communities. This will help to enhance their self-esteem, confidence, and so counter common mental health issues like anxiety and depression. 

One emphasis is to draw attention to the significant contributions that people with autism make at work, at home, in public life, as well as in the world of culture and entertainment. This proactive message is set within a framework of some sobering statistics published by the National Autistic Society. They report that only 29% of people with autism are employed. For the remaining 71%, unemployment can lead to fragile self-confidence. Moreover, 70% of people with autism report mental health issues. And regrettably, there are over 150,000 people simply waiting for autism assessment in the UK. In total there are estimated to be 700,000 people in this country with autism.

It is significant that many people remain undiagnosed. This can prove difficult, for example in the workplace, where managers and colleagues won’t necessarily be understanding, because they simply do not know. This also means that undiagnosed people may have to cope with a condition which they don’t realise they have.

People with autism continue to face discrimination. Unfortunately, people with autism tend to be tagged with that label, and this can lead to an unintended discriminatory environment. Abilities and talents are not always fully acknowledged. Of course, appreciation, understanding and awareness of autism vary hugely across the world. 

People with autism may face misconceptions and barriers in several contexts. At work they may find it difficult to explain basic needs, for instance, that they need to take a break, especially where there is limited support or awareness. Circumstances like these can lead to physical and mental fatigue, stress, and poor levels of concentration, meaning lower productivity rates. Ultimately autistic people can feel overburdened by expectations that are insensitive to their needs.

It cannot be overstated that people with autism do not necessarily share a single, common experience of the condition. For example, some people find social interaction particularly challenging. Others do not. Because of this, advocates are presently urging people with autism to turn the tables on discrimination. They are advising people to set goals, find particular passions and celebrate personal strengths, achievements, abilities and potential. This is because societies are comprised of extraordinarily neurodiverse communities, which they need to champion. 

Tragic events such as the global pandemic, natural disasters, climate change effects, and ongoing political and military conflicts can present sudden and life-changing upheavals for everyone. It is important to remember that autistic people are especially vulnerable, because unexpected change can seem very challenging. 

A widespread prejudicial and misleading assumption is that autism is a mental health problem, when it is not. It is a condition which impacts on ways people look at their environment. It also affects how people interact with others around them. Yet obviously people with autism do experience mental health problems, like everyone else. There are several causes of stress and anxiety for people with autism. For example, it’s difficult for some people with autism to cope in a noisy environment. If organisations do not cater for people with autism, it is likely to leave them feeling anxious or uncomfortable.

So, how can people with autism look after their mental well-being? Experts suggest that taking regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, adopting good sleeping patterns, and maintaining routines to avoid sudden or unexpected changes are all important considerations. Moreover, talking about personal feelings and moods with a trusted friend or another person with autism can also be beneficial. That said, many people find it difficult to open up about personal feelings. 

There are several preventative measures which may help people with autism with mental health problems. Some people with autism attempt to conceal their condition, because they feel anxious about associated stigma or bullying, or because they feel self-conscious. Primarily, people with autism need to feel accepted as they are. That helps to reassure them that there’s no need to act or mask reactions.

Masking autism, or acting, can be exhausting. It can lead to emotional overload, burnout, anxiety, outbursts of anger and low self-esteem. It is far too simplistic to say to an autistic person that it is best to unmask as they go about their lives. A better approach could be to make a list of personal likes and dislikes. This gives a measured opportunity to contemplate what genuinely matters and what doesn’t have to. For example, is attending a social event a priority? Is playing a board game or cooking some food? 

Interacting with other people who have autism can also prove supportive, validating and mutually beneficial. It’s important to reduce or limit activities which can be stressful.

Here are some tips which may help an autistic person to talk about concerns. They may find it easier to chat in a place that feels calm and familiar. People with autism tend to find specific questions more manageable than broad, open-ended queries. Therefore a question like, ‘Is there something that happened at school/home/work that has worried you today?’ is more helpful than ‘How are you getting on, then?’

It’s also advisable to ask people with autism who are reaching out how they would like to convey their feelings. For instance, they may prefer to use emails, texts, phone conversations, or write down notes, rather than have a face to face chat. One key piece of advice when listening to people with autism is to allow them plenty of time to reflect and formulate a reply. Long silences are not an issue. Just having the opportunity to communicate in a respectful way, and be taken seriously, can make a big difference to personal confidence. That in turn is important for mental well-being, and self-esteem. 

Most people enjoy a basic need of a quiet time to relax. This is particularly true for autistic people. Mindfulness, which promotes calm and heightened awareness of our surroundings, is beneficial for everybody, especially autistic people. Moreover, people with autism can adopt a strategy to reduce stress or anxiety in certain situations. For example, it would be perfectly reasonable to use headphones or loop earplugs in a particularly noisy environment. It’s also important to make room for personal interests, to avoid feeling overloaded. This should mean that people feel more in control. That is affirming in itself and naturally beneficial to mental wellbeing. 

So, the aim is that following this year’s autism awareness week, people will be better informed and more appreciative of those around us who are autistic.


There is plenty of advice and help available on line if you or someone you know need help. Please see the following:  

HFEH Mind:

Young Minds:

The NHS also offers advice:

Posted on: 21st March 2024

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