I’ll start this post off with a little personal story. I received an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis at the age of two at my local hospital. From that point onwards, I was written off by just about everyone – teachers, family members, healthcare professionals. They thought that I wouldn’t amount to anything once reaching adulthood.
Thankfully, I proved them wrong. 29 years later, I have a degree in Journalism, over six years’ experience as a copywriter, a social life and, crucially, live and work independently. There are many autistic adults who, like myself, have done the same despite being written off after being diagnosed early on in life.
Although we’re all different – each of us have our strengths as well as things we find difficult, there are still a lot of negative stereotypes about what autistic children are capable of. If you’re a parent of a child who’s either recently been diagnosed or is awaiting diagnosis, it can be hard to picture what the future holds. I want to tell you that it’s not all bad news.
If you’ve only just found out about autism, some of what you might read online may seem a little scary. All those long words and negative language could suggest that autistic people are unlikely to lead a life worth living.
On getting a diagnosis for your child, it’s likely that the professionals responsible will give you some information about local autism-specific services. Among the leaflets, flyers and brochures you might receive, some of them might have useful info that could help your child. Read through them carefully to see if there’s anything relevant. Topics to look out for include:
- Support in education
- Benefits that you may be eligible for
- Info on sensory issues. This might help you to make your child’s environment a little friendlier
- Info on communication. This could prove useful for understanding how your son/daughter will learn to speak and interact with others
As your child grows up, they will learn from their own experiences at home, school and in public. Many of them might be negative – being in environments that are not autism-friendly (such as school) is one such example. However, if you make reasonable adjustments to ensure that they’re comfortable, those can be minimised.
For an autistic child to flourish, you’ve got to believe in their abilities. Find out what they’re good at and try to help nurture their talents. The whole “Rain Man” thing is a myth – few autistic people actually have exceptional, savant talents. That being said, if there’s something your child enjoys, let them do it and they’ll feel better for it.
Something your child might find difficult at school (particularly in mainstream ones, where provision for autistic pupils isn’t always great) is fitting in. Talking to their peers and trying to join the crowd can be intimidating. Meeting your child’s head of year or head teacher might help them to better understand their situation and make school less painful.
If you’re confident in your child’s ability to go through school with all the qualifications they need and have helped where you can, they’ll be in a better position to succeed as adults. First, they’ll be able to do an apprenticeship or go to sixth-form or college and do their ‘A’ Levels.
For those autistic children approaching adulthood with their heart set on going to university, many of them achieve their goals by getting the best possible ‘A’ Level results. There are thousands of autistic graduates and post-graduates with great degrees from great universities to help them move into employment.
Although the oft-quoted stat from the National Autistic Society about just 16% of autistic adults being in full-time, paid work is a little distressing, this figure was from a few years ago. Since then, more employers in different industries have learned about what autistic workers can bring to their businesses.
The common autistic strengths – punctuality, single-mindedness, attention to detail and creativity – are all qualities many employers should look out for. Although there’s still room for improvement, there is a gradual increase in both awareness and acceptance of autism. In turn, this is slowly improving job prospects for many autistic jobseekers.
One of the most encouraging things that parents will want to hear is that there are many autistic adults who, after diagnosis as kids, go on to live and work independently. They rent or own a property, have a job and can travel independently. Through hard work and determination, they have a great adulthood to look forward to.
It’s not just those who do that every day that you can take inspiration from. There are many autistic people who become famous for their work. A notable example is Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokemon. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and believes that being Aspie is partly why he made the hugely popular cartoon/game.
Other famous autistic people who’ve become hugely successful include musician Gary Numan, actor/comedian Dan Aykroyd and artist Willard Wigan MBE. Willard’s work, which involves creating microscopic sculptures, has been bought for huge sums of money by people including Queen Elizabeth II.
If your child has been diagnosed, there’s so much to look forward to. With the right help in place to help them grow, they can live and work without assistance going into adulthood, just like neurotypical people do!